David Fizdale met his longtime friend and co-worker Erik Spoelstra at half court and all he could do was try to laugh it off.
“That’s no way to treat a friend,” he said.
Spoelstra exposed many of the Knicks‘ weaknesses in this rout. Many weaknesses — pick-and-roll defense, three-point defense and poor shooting — that Fizdale has been trying to hide and coach the team out of in this early part of the season. After a sloppy first half by both teams, the Heat turned into the team the Knicks had been trying to be so far this season: hard-working, scrappy and opportunistic.
Just four minutes into the half, the Heat ripped off a 17-4 run to break open the game. By the middle of the quarter it was a full-on blowout.
When the final quarter began, the game was over as the Heat scored 45 points in the third and led by almost 30.
The Knicks showed none of the fight, determination and resiliency we saw in those painfully close losses to the Nets, Celtics and Bucks.
“We let go of the rope tonight,” Fizdale acknowledged. “This was the first time I felt like we let go.”
He said the Heat domination in the third quarter “broke us,” which is an alarming statement when you consider the next opponent is the Golden State Warriors, who turned third quarters into an execution chamber for their opponents. Before they begin the half, they should offer Warriors opponents a blindfold and cigarette.
The Knicks were smoked by the Heat as a result of long-range shooting (8 of 10 from downtown) and a seemingly unstoppable pick-and-roll lob play to Hasaan Whiteside. Spoelstra kept going to Whiteside (22 points, 14 rebounds), who dominated Enes Kanter (8 points, 5 rebounds) in a key matchup on the night. Kanter struggled in the pick-and-roll coverages and you could see frustration building between him and his teammates on those plays.
Trey Burke also struggled mightily at both ends of the floor. Spoelstra trapped him every time the high screen came and Burke never got into a rhythm on offense. He made just one shot out of 10 attempts and played only 16:46 because he was benched when his lack of scoring clearly impacted his effort on defense. Fizdale pulled him after he failed to run back off a missed shot and it led to an easy score for Miami.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Warriors Begins Friday At 7 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]
With that in mind, Fizdale said the starting five, which struggled again, “will be evaluated” and added that he will “maybe make some tweaks” before Friday’s game against the Warriors. He did say the starting unit has to “set a defensive tone” which is to suggest he’s not looking to remove someone like Lance Thomas (6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals in 19:50). But what about Burke? And how will Kanter fare against the up-tempo Warriors who like to spread the floor and attack switches?
We’ll tell you here that, after five games, the Knicks have one of the lowest-scoring starting units in the NBA (62.8 points per game) and also one of the poorest shooting starting units (42.7%). They also shoot the least number of free throws per game. The starting five has been outscored by a total of 18 points over the first five games, which is the 6th-highest deficit in the league.
Some possibilities for changes to the starting group include moving Damyean Dotson into the starting five and sliding Frank Ntilikina to the point guard spot, though that goes against what we’ve seen the coaching staff has done in terms of Ntilikina’s role. Fizdale could simply replace Frank with Dotson, who provides more of a perimeter threat and a higher motor and also brings a defensive mindset. Emmanuel Mudiay (sprained ankle) is expected to be ready to make his season debut on Friday and he gives needed depth to the point guard position, but it’s tough to expect him to be thrust into the starting spot coming off an injury.
The reality is Fizdale doesn’t have many options. Not with rookie Kevin Knox out with the ankle injury and veteran Courtney Lee still trying to figure out what is going on with his aching neck. And then there is the absence of Kristaps Porzingis.
Right now, he can’t be concerned with the piled-up losses just one week into the season. His only job right now is to teach.
“This will be good for us,” he said with as much optimism as he could muster. “We took our first punch in the mouth . . . Obviously, I’ll have some good film to teach.”
The lesson learned is when you stop trying, you get embarrassed.
–The Knicks came into the game averaging 111 points per game. They missed that mark by 24 points and that dropped them to 106.4 ppg, which is now in the bottom third of the league.
–The NBA stands for No Breaks Allowed as the two-time defending champion Warriors come to The Garden on Friday night just 48 hours after a humiliating loss in Miami. And Fizdale talks like he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s awesome,” he said. “I mean, come on, it’s great for these kids. This is The League.”
–Second round pick Mitchell Robinson‘s playing time has been limited through the first four games of the season, mainly due to an ankle issue and excellent play from Noah Vonleh. But Robinson played the entire fourth quarter of garbage time and it allowed him to get comfortable at NBA regular season speed. He finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds and a block. One of his hoops was an athletic catch-and-finish on an alley-oop from Ntilikina. Will we start seeing more Robinson now that the ankle appears to be improved?
–The Heat have built a Spurs-like reputation for finding and developing diamond-in-the-rough players, with the likes of Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder. The Knicks are trying to do the same and they may have found something in Dotson. Last season the second-round pick bounced back and forth from the G-League and started getting regular minutes in the final month. This year, he is forcing his way into Fizdale’s rotation and might be forcing his way into the conversation to earn a starting spot. Dotson led the Knicks with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists with a steal and a blocked shot in 34:28.
–Does anyone else keep thinking they’re seeing former Knick guard Toney Douglas behind the bench in a bowtie? It’s not, however. That’s Knicks assistant coach Royal Ivey, whom MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow interviewed before the start of the third quarter. Sharp-dressed man and an excellent development coach. And at a quick glance, a Toney Douglas doppelganger. Toney Douglas was a Knick from 2009-12 and was the starting point guard in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season before Linsanity happened. So where is TD these days? Playing in Turkey, where he won the league championship last season. He last played in the NBA in 2016-17 for the Memphis Grizzlies, which means he played for Fizdale. But Royal Ivey was not on that coaching staff so you could make the case that Toney and Royal have not been seen in the same place at the same time.
–Mario Hezonja was trying to be aggressive as a scorer off the bench but it turned into a very erratic game. He scored 13 points in 21:56, but was 4 for 15 from the field and took some forced shots. He’s a player that clearly has a lot of physical tools and a nice-looking jumper, but he needs to learn how to play in the flow of the game. His decision-making has been an issue, which suggests he has since gone with his first instinct: just shoot the ball.
–When the game ended, Dwyane Wade, who is expected to retire after this season, presented Fizdale with his game-worn jersey that he already signed. Wade and Fizdale developed a strong bond during Fizdale’s years as member of the Heat coaching staff. Wade wanted to give him the jersey at that moment because it is the only trip the Knicks make to Miami this season and he saw it as their last time on the American Airlines Arena court. Wade earlier praised Fizdale’s impact on the Knicks and told the Daily News that he has “already changed the perception” of the franchise and that “players around the league want to play for Fiz.” That theory will be tested come July.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Warriors Begins Friday At 7 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]