Mike D’Antoni used to be the hoops coach under the microscope in New York, so he feels for what Jeff Hornacek has gone through in his season-plus with the Knicks.
D’Antoni, who coached 3 ½ years at the Garden before being fired midway through the 2011-12 season, was back in town Wednesday night with Houston following a successful initial season coaching James Harden and the Rockets.
“I don’t know Jeff that well, I don’t know his day-to-day, but it can get to you and you get frustrated and all that, and it makes it tougher,” D’Antoni said before the game. “At the same time, it is exciting and now we are getting to the point that he’s a great coach and he does a great job and if the team lines up right, he’s going to do a good job with them, as he did in Phoenix.
“He’s been around the game forever, but you do have to get through the noise. Whether you listen to it or not, I don’t know. Hopefully he doesn’t, but the way the team’s playing right now, it looks good.”
Indeed, the Knicks had won three straight games following an 0-3 start, with Kristaps Porzingis notching at least 30 points in five of the first six games in his first season as the team’s No.1 offensive option after Carmelo Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City on the eve of training camp.
“The last three games they’ve looked really good. Porzingis has been off the charts and you just keep on going,” D’Antoni said. “They’re playing really well. They’re playing exciting basketball and other than tonight, I’m happy for them. (Hornacek) deserves it. I know what he’s gone through, and it’s not easy. But they’re playing very well.”
D’Antoni made the playoffs just once during his Knick tenure, getting swept by Boston in the first round following a 42-40 campaign during the 2010-11 season, with Anthony acquired from Denver in a blockbuster February trade from Denver. He was fired with an 18-24 record in March of the next season, before replacement Mike Woodson led the Knicks to an 18-6 mark and another playoff berth.
“New York is great. I’m sure the Garden (Wednesday night) is going to be buzzing, and it should be. And that’s what makes it special,” D’Antoni said. “If we won three games in a row, they thought we were going to win a championship. I was like, wow. The buzz, you could feel it and that’s why it’s a special place.
“It’s tough if you let it be tough, but you also, if you have management and coaches and players all on the same page, then you just live in your little cocoon and you coach and you go into the most exciting place in the world to play basketball, and it’s pretty cool…Maybe it’s more intense here a little bit, but everybody’s got the internet and everybody can yell and scream and give their opinion, which is cool. Just don’t respond to it and listen to it, and if you don’t, you can live a very happy life.”
D’Antoni seems to be much happier in Houston, where Harden finished second in NBA MVP voting and led the Rockets to a 55-27 record last season before a second-round playoff loss to San Antonio.
D’Antoni nearly was reunited with Anthony over the summer, but the sides couldn’t come to terms on a deal. The Rockets earlier had obtained All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the Clippers, although he missed Wednesday’s game with a knee injury.
“He does a great job with the guys he has,” Hornacek said of D’Antoni. “He had Steve Nash in Phoenix. He just let him go and let Steve make all these plays. Now he’s got James doing it. When Chris comes back, he’ll have another guy that can do it. He knows how to put guys into their strengths. When he has those guys, he has a team that’s tough to beat.”