Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nate's Breakout Exposes D'Antoni Woes

Is it really 'nothing personal?'

Mike D'Antoni claims Nate Robinson's permanent perch in the D'Antoni Doghouse during a 14-game span in December was not personal. The decision to ditch Robinson in the doghouse, to bury him on the bench while players who've done considerably less for the organization ate up all his minutes, was solely based on D'Antoni trying to refine, regulate and unravel a winning formula in New York. D'Antoni was going with what works, living by the old cliche "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

It still seemed like Nate was being punished for a crime he never committed. Robinson's exile was akin to that of a high school player who stopped going to class suddenly falling out of favor with a discipline-demanding head coach. The coach treated the veteran like a kid with a dicey past who was lucky to get a second chance.

Nate hadn't smelt the hardwood since the very beginning of December. He was relegated to a pure benchwarming role nobody envisioned for the 5-foot-8 sparkplug, waterbug, energy-bleeding guard.

It was at the beggining of last month when D'Antoni had an epiphany. His self-actualization told him the Knicks without Nate are great.

D'Antoni felt it was time to put his ol' country-fool foot down. He chewed Nate out in New Jersey in an angered, redfaced mano y mano encounter with the little go-go guard.

Robinson knowingly shot the ball on the wrong basket against the Nets, albeit the shot came after the buzzer sounded. Nonetheless, it made D'Antoni's blood boil for the entirety of a month.

It was certainly a portent of things to come.

Whether it was personal or not (the Knicks' record without Robinson in the lineup would indicate they're the better team without No.2 on the floor, and D'Antoni seemed to buy into that notion big time), none of that mattered leading into New Year's Night.

Nate erupted with a mammoth 41-point slaying, an epic performance which willed the Knicks to a 112-108 overtime win over Atlanta. He scorched the nets at a 18-for-24 clip, murking the Hawks from beyond the arc in the first half and zig-zagged through traffic, threading through the Atlanta D in the second.

D'Antoni, you made a mistake dude.

D'Antoni realized it was time to rip the straightcoat off Nate's back and utilize the pint-sized, pugnacious guard's scoring gifts, along with his supreme spurtability. Robinson had no idea he was going to play. He even thought that D'Antoni, he of the thick southern drawl, called "Dave" when he in reality he called "Nate" when ushering Nate into the ball game.

Despite having not seen any burn in a month, the kid who's spent his summers hooping at West Fourth St. in New York City and Rumbrook Park in Westchester County, N.Y., looked like he hadn't missed a beat. No rust evident.

Robinson, in addition to giving the Knicks a spark on New Year's Night, may have helped the Knicks turn a corner. They beat, battered, blasted, and bludgeoned a Pacers team decimated with a spate of injuries, to the tune of an 132-89 washout last night.

Robinson's performance against the Hawks also etched his name in record book lure. The lil fella became the first player to come off the bench and record 40 points and eight assists since "Pistol" Pete Maravich in 1973.

Donnie Walsh would stick by D'Antoni's decision to doghouse Nate prior to letting him out for his career night on the first of January.

More than any Knick, Nate is infused with score in clusters, shoot until you miss, heat-check style. He's an instant energy guy, a high-motor guard who engineers head-spinning runs and is ready to score the rock as soon as he falls out of bed.

A kid who can light up the scoreboard and score buckets by the bundles when he has the green light has no place pinned on the pine.

Now, yet another sideshow of the D'Antoni era has emerged. D'Antoni, who was accused of lying to Stephon Marbury about his role with the team and running him out of town (a move that few were objected to), was recently ripped by Knicks guard Larry Hughes, who will likely be getting his fair share of bench splinters now.

Hughes, like that high school kid who the confrontational coach wants to make an example out of, was benched for the embarassing blowout of the Pacers last night and was outspoken about his unhappiness.

Hughes said that D'Antoni's method of benching Nate for him and then benching him for Hughes was "not a good way to play the season.”

“I mean, going back and forth. This is my second or third time now, it’s getting old.”

At least this time D'Antoni, who screamed obscenities at fans who chanted "put in Marbury!" during his first-ever game as head coach, isn't benching the player because of a personal grudge.