Duhon Takes His Turn on Bench As Knicks Win

Published on: 4th February, 2010

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New York – Even in victory, the Knicks cannot seem to stay away from post-game controversy. Despite their easy 107-85 victory at home last night over the Washington Wizards, the big story of the night was the second half benching of starting point guard, Chris Duhon in favor of Nate Robinson, himself banished to the bench for 15 consecutive games a scant two months ago and Larry Hughes, newly freed from his own Mike D’Antoni-induced eight game purgatory in January.

Tonight, the Wizards, a struggling franchise wracked with controversy (Gilbert Arenas weapons charges) and borderline NBA talent came into Madison Square Garden with an even worse record (16-31) than the Knicks. And it showed as the Knicks got to enjoy the rare game where they could relax over the last few minutes, knowing the win was at hand.

After an uninspired first half that had the home crowd in a sleepy stupor, the Knicks outscored the Wizards, 66-40 in the second half.  Most of the credit must go to the decision by D’Antoni to start Robinson in place of Duhon, who has been in a horrendous shooting and playmaking slump for several games. Duhon understood the move. 

“I’m not playing well and Nate is playing well so it would be his job to make this team win,” said Duhon. “My lack of energy is something I’ve got to change. Mike’s job is to win games and he has to go with the guys who are getting it done. Nate’s been getting it done so it’s his decision. Starting is not the biggest thing in the world as long as we win. I’ll do whatever I can do to contribute.”

D’Antoni is not a big believer in communicating with players when they’re about to hit the bench as he demonstrated with his sudden benchings of Robinson and Hughes in consecutive months.

“No, he didn’t talk to me at all about his plans to sit me,” said Duhon. “It’s not a big deal. You go out and just try to do your job.”

D’Antoni was pleased with the play of Robinson and Hughes.

“When you lose three in a row and you’re playing bad, you just try to give it to someone else,” he said. “With Larry, the reason he went to the bench the first time, I didn’t think he was playing well. And when the guys that are above him play bad, then let’s try him again.”

D’Antoni isn’t really a mad scientist of roundball, he’s just trying to find a combinations of players that will lead to wins. But, for a coach with a reputation for being a “players coach,” a guy who purportedly can attract players from all over the league to play with the Knicks with his upbeat personality and offensive sets, he sure has an icy streak about him when it comes to communicating with his players.

“I don’t hear the chatter, I don’t listen to the chatter, and I don’t care about the chatter” he said in reference to the media coverage of his player benchings. “I understand the player frustrations, but I’m just trying to put the best guys on the floor. I’m not going to get it right all the time because I don’t have a crystal ball but the intent is to see how good we can play.”

“In Larry’s case, he was working. He practiced. I thought he had a good practice yesterday. I thought we needed something, obviously. You keep losing, you got to change something up.”

The Knicks first half looked like they had already given up on a season that is absolutely teetering on the brink of early extinction, mirroring most of the last decade of seasons for this franchise. They were playing a bad team that has been out of the playoff race since the season’s first week but they found themselves behind at the half, 45-41. Worse, they played with zero energy, and as is usually the case, it’s the point guard, the floor leader who bears the brunt. Duhon, who has been atrocious for most of the past month, took a seat to start the second half. The results were striking.

“I thought both Robinson and Hughes played well,” D’Antoni said. “And the decision obviously, if you saw the first half, we were dead in the water. It just didn’t feel like there was any life. There was nothing in the building. We weren’t giving anybody in the building anything to cheer about.

If ever there was a team sitting on the threshold of seeing its season go kerplunk in the still-early but dark days of February, it is this New York Knickerbockers team, vintage 2010. Like most of the seasons this franchise has experienced over the past decade or so, the Knicks are once again treading the fine line between extinction and empty hopes for a playoff berth.

D’Antoni hopes he has found a formula as the Knicks now stand 4 1/2 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 34 games remaining.

“You just have to play a little bit tougher and nastier and have some energy,” D’Antoni said. “This is how we have to play all the time.”

Robinson finished with 23 points and eight assists while  Al Harrington and Hughes also put in double figures off the bench.

Hughes, out of the rotation last month and critical of D’Antoni for the way he handled the demotion, played in just two of 15 games in January. But he showed little rust, knocking down a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and teaming with Harrington for consecutive baskets midway through the period.  

Banished to the bench in December, Robinson has regained his spot as a valuable reserve and started the second half. Coach Mike D’Antoni could consider making him the starting point guard to replace the slumping Duhon.

Harrington, back after a two-game absence with a sore left knee, scored 12 points, and Hughes returned from D’Antoni’s forgotten list to add 11 in just his third game since the new year.

Game notes
The Knicks honored Dick McGuire with a video tribute and a moment of silence before the game. McGuire, a Hall of Famer who spent 53 years in the organization as a player, coach and scout, died Wednesday. He was 84. … Washington has lost four in a row at New York.

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