Knicks head coach David Fizdale spoke on Thursday as New York prepared for game 2 of the 2019-20 season -- Friday night in Brooklyn against the Nets.
Here are the takeaways...
Mitchell Robinson is getting better
Robinson, who missed Wednesday night's season-opener due to a sprained ankle, practiced on Thursday and looks to be on track to play against the Nets on Friday. Fizdale said Robinson might have started in the Knicks' season opener if he were healthy. Fizdale wouldn't commit publicly to starting Robinson on Friday. He plans to announced the starting lineup on Friday evening prior to tipoff against Brooklyn. Bobby Portis started at center on Wednesday.
Fizdale spoke on Thursday of the ways the Knicks missed Robinson against San Antonio.
"They had 54 points in the paint against us. That's first time we really gave up a lot at the rim," Fizdale said. "We missed having that roller guy who puts pressure on the rim from a rolling standpoint. It'll be good to have him back."
It sounds like, if healthy, Robinson will start in Brooklyn.
Speaking of the starting lineup…
Elfrid Payton made a great impression
Payton played very well during the Knicks' loss to the Spurs, with 11 points, eight assists, and five steals in 26 minutes. He changed the tenor of the game; New York outscored San Antonio by 14 in his first 16 minutes on the floor.
Fizdale heaped praise on Payton on Thursday and while he wasn't ready to announce who his starting five will be against the Nets, he agreed that Payton was a strong candidate to get the start.
"Great intensity to the game," Fizdale said. "He really changed the game for us with his level of competitiveness on the ball, the pace that he pushed the ball at. He really turned the game for us."
In a perfect world, Fizdale says he would have a set starting five and a set rotation. That's not a reality for the Knicks at the moment. When asked about it, Fizdale acknowledged that the fluctuating rotations could be a challenge for players.
"I'm sure it's tough for them (not) being set in a rotation. At the same time, we're not there yet," he said. "Some teams have the luxury to know here's my starting five, here's my backups. Everybody can just dial into when they're going to play every single night. But right now we don't have that luxury….You'd love to have that. As a coach it gives you total clarity. At the same as I sort through this I'm going to go as deep as I have to go to find what I need."
He credited Payton for performing in his role off the bench on Wednesday.
"Just to have that clear mind to be ready. Soon as I called on him he jumped up and was ready to go. That's how it's got to be for all of them," the coach said.
Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina didn't fare as well in limited minutes against San Antonio.
"Him and Dennis both had a tough go at it. But again, I'm just stressing to all of those guys, be ready," Fizdale said. "Be ready because I can call on you at any point. I think that's part of our strength is the depth. Guys have to keep their minds locked in."
Marcus Morris talked Kyrie Irving
Morris was asked whether or not he thought Irving -- who recently said the death of his grandfather had a big impact on him in 2018-19 -- failed as a leader in Boston. Irving said he failed to lead the Celtics himself had admitted as much on Nets Media Day. Morris played on that Celtics team.
"The word fail, I wouldn't say, I just think, I don't want to say fail, I just think mentally he had some other stuff going on and it was hard for him to separate that from the work place," Morris explained. "And that's difficult sometimes. But I do think he tried his hardest. I wouldn't use the word fail. At times, he just didn't, he just forgot how big of a leader he was. I think he sometimes forgot that. As a leader, outside stuff can affect our team. And I think that did. Not like outside distractions but like family stuff he had going on."
Morris said Irving being singled out in Boston as a face of their failure was "just how it goes" and that he had a "great relationship" with him.
"I love Ky," Morris said. "I had a great relationship with Ky. Me and him were really good friends in there, we talked about a lot, what was going on. We never had no problems."
Payton may be matched up against Irving, who had 50 points and 0 turnovers in an overtime loss to Minnesota on Wednesday.
"Definitely want to hold him under 50. But if they lose and he has 50 I'll take it," Payton said. "It's definitely a challenge. Something I'm excited to take on. But it's going to be a team effort. Not one person can stop a player like that. I think we'll be locked in."
Payton said he didn't have any specific motivation in facing Irving and the Nets.
"My motivation is to get a win," he said. "That's my only motivation."
Here's Fizdale on Irving's performance: "I would hope that we can limit him and make it tougher on him. But he's a great player. It does not surprise me that he puts up big numbers. they have a lot of spacing out there. They've got a lot of weapons. It's not easy just to key on him. they've got other capable guys as well. It's going to take a team effort to get it done."
Surprised he wasn't in NY?
As reported over the summer, Irving assessed all of his free-agent suitors - including the Nets - from ownership on down when he chose Brooklyn. Irving signing with the Nets was a significant factor in Kevin Durant's decision to go to Brooklyn.
Fizdale was asked on Thursday if he was surprised Irving signed with the Nets.
"Nothing surprises me anymore. Guys are going to go where they feel is best for them," he said. "He felt that that was best for him. I'm happy with the guys that we got."
Shortly after he committed to re-signing with Boston, Irving cited the Knicks as a team he would've considered in free agency. He cited David Fizdale and ex-Knick Kristaps Porzingis. Fizdale was asked on Thursday if the comment was on his radar at the time.
"No, I think you guys know with me, I don't get my hopes up," he said. "I stay in the moment with that stuff, whether it was the draft or whether it was free agency, things change and fluctuate. People change their mind and ideas and thoughts. So I just try to stay in the moment and when the time comes we get who we get and I coach those guys."
The Knicks play in Brooklyn on Friday for the first time since all of the free-agent movement. Traditionally, there is a large contingent of Knicks fans at Barclays Center for Knicks-Nets. Does Fizdale expect a big group of supporters on Friday?
"Usually, yeah, we usually have a few Knicks running around in there," he said. "It'll be a fun game and a good crowd. Hopefully our guys come ready to go."