SALT LAKE CITY — Phil Jackson’s Bulls averaged 70.5 regular-season victories during back-to-back championship years in the mid-’90s, helping give him the highest career winning percentage of any coach in NBA history.
But the Knicks squad Jackson has constructed and deconstructed in his first full year as team president now threatens to approach 70 losses with 19 games remaining, falling to an NBA-worst 12-51 with the latest defeat, 87-82, to the Jazz on Tuesday night.
While Jackson is off scouting for the Knicks’ upcoming lottery pick and mapping out a game plan for the $ 30 million in cap space he’ll have at his disposal this summer in free agency, what kind of advice has the Zen Master been giving first-year coach and protégé Derek Fisher as the frustration and the losses mount?
Knicks coach Derek Fisher and guard Langston Galloway talk over another loss.
“He’s just encouraging me and all of us to continue to stay focused on teaching and coaching and holding guys accountable and that they’re doing the things we need to do out there and making sure that we’re examples of not checking out and just going through the motions,” said Fisher, whose team competed better than it had Monday in the 106-78 loss in Denver, but still dropped its fifth straight game. “They have to see us be engaged and still passionate and still holding each other accountable every day.
“So that’s what we’re trying to do, and (Jackson has) been supportive in that regard. I didn’t expect otherwise. But we’re still determined to keep pushing to get to where we know we (can) get to. We just have to go through what we’re going through right now, but we know better days are ahead.”
Fisher, of course, won five titles as a guard on Jackson’s Laker squads in the 2000s, so he also is not accustomed to being associated with a losing outfit. He endured a pair of 34-48 seasons with Golden State in between his two stints in Los Angeles, but the Knicks are easily on pace to eclipse the worst 82-game record in franchise history. They went 23-59 in 1985-86, 2005-06 and 2007-08.
“Whether I can relate to it or not is not really the way I think about it,” said Fisher, who played one season with Utah in 2006-07 and was booed Tuesday when introduced before the game. “We all grew up playing the game differently; we’re taught and coached differently. So it’s not that you expect everybody to know or understand how to do something, but you just keep finding a way. That’s the only way to really survive is to just keep finding ways to be impactful, to be effective. And we ran out of the ability to do that (Monday) and really just kind of let the game get out of control rather quickly instead of just continuing to fight.
“I think it’s difficult at times when you’re down to keep doing that, but I’m just trying to really strongly suggest to the guys that they find ways to do it no matter what.”
Fisher regularly has heard boos here since leaving after his one season with the Jazz; he was granted his release because his daughter, Tatum, was undergoing cancer treatment in 2007 and he promptly re-signed with the Lakers, winning his final two rings.
Utah Jazz forward Jerrelle Benimon pulls down a rebound in front of Knicks forward Lance Thomas.
“I’m pretty much done talking about why people boo when I come here,” said Fisher, who met with retired Utah coach Jerry Sloan after Tuesday’s game. “My forever response to that is Tatum is doing just fine.”
SKID AT FIVE: Alexey Shved had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and Andrea Bargnani netted 20 for the Knicks, who were without Tim Hardaway Jr. (back stiffness) and Quincy Acy (sore left knee) for the second straight game. Former Net Derrick Favors paced Utah with 29 points and 12 boards. Gordon Hayward was sidelined with a back strain for the Jazz
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