Down With the King

Dominique Wilkins was talking about his career to NBA.com a few years ago and recalled a time when small forward was the elite position in basketball. In the 1980s, for you to play the three spot and survive, you had to be good. And every single night, you had to be ready for your matchup.

Larry Bird, Julius Erving, James Worthy, Alex English, Adrian Dantley, Mark Aguirre and MSG Network’s own Kelly Tripucka were all a heavy load to carry those days.

But according to ‘Nique, one of the most explosive scorers and dunkers of his day, he feared no one… except the King.

Bernard King,” he said, “is the only guy that ever scared the hell out of me.”

Aguirre listed three names that he said always worried him the night before a game. Bird, Worthy and King.

Bird, meanwhile, said Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were his greatest concerns. Why not King?

“I didn’t guard Bernard,” he told me a few years ago.

Why?

“I had no chance guarding Bernard.”

The universal respect among his peers — which was emphasized in 1984 when he was named NBA Player of the Year by the Sporting News, which was based on a poll of NBA players — is not enough, however, to earn King a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. For a fourth time, the Hall’s secret voting committee failed to include one of the game’s most prolific scorers of the 1980s.

The Class of 2012 was announced on Monday before the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. Reggie Miller, Ralph Sampson, Don Nelson and Jamaal Wilkes, Mel Daniels and Chet Walker were among the inductees.

This isn’t about discounting anyone who got the nod over King, who occasionally works as a color analyst for MSG Networks’ Knicks broadcasts, but there is a legitimate argument that he belongs in Springfield.

His career may have been shortened by a knee injury, but his perseverance to come back from what at the time would normally be considered a career-ending situation has to factor into his legacy as a player. Then you can get to the statistics — 22.5 points per game, a 60-point game, eight 50-point games, including a Wilt Chamberlain-like back-to-back 50-point games on consecutive nights, 1984-85 scoring title, one of the most dominating playoff series in NBA history vs. Detroit Pistons, four-time all-star, three-time All-NBA — at the pro level.

He was left off the 50 Greatest Players list, which in itself is easily debatable, and fell just 345 points shy of the 20,000-point mark mainly because a devastating knee injury interrupted his career at its peak. The fact that he played in just 874 games over a 14-year career is the one issue voters can use in the debate against him.

But since this is not just an NBA Hall of Fame, you can’t ignore a collegiate resume that includes three-time SEC Player of the Year, two-time All-America, the 1977 SEC championship and 1,962 career points and 1,004 career rebounds with Tennessee. He was the first player in the history of the Vol’s men’s basketball program to have his number retired (since then, his former running mate, Ernie Grunfeld, and current Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston, have been similarly honored).

New York got to enjoy King in the prime of his career. His awe-inspiring performances against the Pistons and Celtics in the thrilling 1984 playoffs rank among the top playoff memories since the 1973 championship season. Just ask coach Hubie Brown about King’s Hall of Fame worthiness.

Or ask Patrick Ewing, who, despite being on the same roster as King for two seasons, never once suited up with him. King missed the entire 1985-86 season recovering from the torn ACL injury — one that led to the Knicks plummeting out of the playoff race in 84-85 and affording the lottery pick that landed Ewing — and when he did return late in the 86-87 season, Ewing was already out for the season with an injury.

The most the two ever did together was ride stationary bikes side-by-side and talk about what could be once they were both healthy. But they never got the chance to find out, as new coach Rick Pitino came in that summer with a high-energy, up-tempo system that was not going to work for a veteran like King trying to make a comeback from major knee surgery. So GM Al Bianchi let King go to Washington and used his salary slot to sign power forward Sidney Green.

King averaged 22.9 points that season with the Bullets and by 90-91, he was back in the all-star game again. And to this day, he insists if the Knicks had kept him, he, Ewing and Mark Jackson would have won a championship together.

And perhaps that would have been the clincher for a trip to Springfield.

MORE BOOM, LESS DOOM

The loss of Jeremy Lin has the Knicks point guard position in another crisis, especially with Baron Davis dealing with a hamstring strain that has limited the explosion he was just starting to get back. But Mike Woodson doesn’t need Davis to be explosive as much as he needs him to not be implosive.

Just distribute and, most importantly, take care of the basketball on offense. Davis had just one turnover in 29 minutes during Saturday’s win over the Cavaliers, but turnovers — especially careless, unforced errors — have been an issue. The worst was nine giveaways in 34 minutes of Monday’s win over the Bucks.

Davis is averaging 2.6 turnovers per game in 19 appearances so far this season at 19.1 minutes per game. That’s a rate Woodson, and Davis, both agree has to decrease.

“Turnovers and rebounds are the most important things in a basketball game, if you ask me,” Davis said. “We have to do a better job of not turning the ball over.

The Knicks now lead the NBA with 16.6 turnovers per game, which is a very troubling statistic for a team that will play out the rest of the regular season without two starters and key offensive pieces, Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire.

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

This week, with just two games in seven days, affords some practice time to clean up some things on the offensive end and adjust to life without Lin and Stoudemire, but Woodson said the downtime needs to be spent on rest and recovery to gear up for the stretch run.

“Everybody’s going through it, but there’s just not enough time in the day to teach,” said Woodson, who added that the players will get that time on off-days, but he will “push them when game time comes, that’s my time. I’ve got to push these guys to play at a high level.”

The remaining schedule after this week is daunting, with a home-and-home against the Bulls then another critical game against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Three of the final five regular season games, however, are against non-contending teams (Nets, Cavs and Bobcats).

In the battle to hold off the Bucks (25-28), we’re going to put the magic win total at 34 for the Knicks to clinch. So seven wins in these last 13 games should be enough to do it.

PACER PAYBACK?

One of the most impressive efforts by the Knicks under Woodson was the back-to-back, home-and-home sweep of the Indiana Pacers on March 16-17. Fueled by Danny Granger’s “winnable games” remark, the Knicks defense was strong in both games and frustrated the Pacers, especially in the gritty 102-88 win in Indiana on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Pacers have gone 6-3 since that series and are staying just ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for that fifth seed in the East. And the Knicks expect they’ll be looking to exact some revenge tonight.

“We know they’re going to come out aggressive,” said center Tyson Chandler, who had a terrific battle with all-star Roy Hibbert in the two games.

“This is the time of season where every game counts,” Chandler added. “So we have to do what it takes to get the win.”

“It don’t stop,” said Carmelo Anthony, who may see more of David West in the post and less of Granger on the perimeter. “The fun continues.”

Without Lin, Stoudemire and Jared Jeffries, the Knicks are a much different team than they were during the last meeting, especially up front. Rookie Josh Harrellson will have his work cut out for him off the bench against the inexhaustible Tyler Hansbrough and the rugged Pacers front line.

FIXINS

    • Lin underwent an arthroscopy on Monday to clean up a tear in the lateral meniscus. The team announced he will remain on a six-week recovery period, but it is possible he could be back sooner. Lin said he is a fast healer, but this isn’t something to rush. The first order of business is to get post-op swelling down and then get him on a stationary bike before he is cleared to begin running on the zero gravity treadmill.

 

    • We’ve deliberated on Twitter about possible moves the Knicks could make in Lin’s absence, with names such as Mike James and Anthony Carter as options. Woodson, however, made it clear the team will look to go forward with what they have and he will try to get the most out of Mike Bibby while also trying to resurrect the confidence of third-year guard Toney Douglas. But Stoudemire’s absence leaves more of a concern for the frontcourt, so it is possible the Knicks could make a move to bolster the front court. Name to watch: Veteran Mikki Moore, who is currently in the D-League. Another: Andres Nocioni, who was waived March 23 by the 76ers. Knicks would have to cut a player first before they add one.

 

    • Stoudemire joined the team for the trip to Indiana and Orlando, which is a positive sign that his back is well enough for travel. He remains on a 2-to-4 week recovery period.

 

  • Jeffries is expected to test his right knee later this week to see if he can get himself ready to return for the stretch run.