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Ex-Cavs player: Knicks' locker room culture is better

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Ex-Cavs player: Knicks' locker room culture is better

So who is Lou Amundson? He's pretty much an afterthought, a utility player who had his best run with the Phoenix Suns when they were competing in the conference finals with Steve Nash. He also has played for 10 NBA teams and had some insight on what went on with the Cleveland Cavaliers after the firing of coach David Blatt.

In comments to the New York Post's Marc Berman, Amundson said he preferred being with the five-win Knicks at the time rather than the Cavs who eventually would make a run to the NBA Finals.

“It’s hard for a rookie coach to come in and be in a situation like that where one guy (LeBron James) is such a big influence on a whole organization,’’ Amundson said. “That’s a tough position to be in. However, you need in that situation to be assertive and make sure your players know you’re going to hold them accountable, every one of them, and they’re going to respect you. In the NBA, coaching is more managing than coaching.

“It’s important to just be assertive and not let that happen. Hold everybody accountable, otherwise you lose respect and attention of your guys.’’

Amundson usually has good insight, but he's not often heard from because of his role. He's an emergency big body who comes at a relatively inexpensive price.

A coach calling out a star player, the way Randy Wittman has occasionally done with John Wall in his sixth season, can be risky but is required and if that player has the right attitude he'll respond. Rick Carlisle and Stan Van Gundy took issue with Blatt's firing but both have a long history of doing that, too.

Blatt apparently was reluctant to do this in Cleveland and it created a ripple effect among the other players in the locker room.

“It didn’t feel like it should feel,’’ Amundson told The Post. “A team with championship aspirations, that’s not how it was supposed to feel."

That's when a coach has actually lost the locker room, or in Blatt's case maybe he never had it to begin with. A team can win like the Cavs and that can still be the case, and if the coach doesn't have a good relationship with the best player that's all it takes. 

[RELATED: NBA coaches weigh in on 'embarrassing' firing of David Blatt]

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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds either. Eighty percent (40 of 50) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. They don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.

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Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards experienced plenty during this largely trying regular season. One aspect missing, being on the all-smiles end of a blowout victory. After Wednesday’s 119-95 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they can now check that box.

“It’s nice to experience that as well,” Tomas Satoransky said.

Washington led from start to finish and by double figures for the final 35 minutes. It set season-highs for points in a quarter (41 in the first), the first half (73) and largest halftime margin (21). The Wizards turned 24 Cavalier turnovers into 29 points. All 13 players scored. 

Quality stretches existed this season, but for minutes, a quarter, maybe a half, but rarely over the full 48. Other than a third-quarter dip when the Cavaliers (2-12) closed within 13 points, the Wizards rolled. The romp meant John Wall only played 21 minutes. None of the starters entered in the fourth quarter. That last part happened in recent games, but this time for positive reasons.

“It was great,” Bradley Beal said of a game “[We were] able to come out and get a lead and be able to sustain it and maintain it throughout the game.”

The Wizards maintained little during the opening 11 games of the regular season other than a downtrodden vibe. Their 5-9 record reflects those struggles. The current three-game winning streak signals growth. The postgame locker room smiles and comments displayed some sense of relief.

“I think we needed that, obviously,” Satoransky said to NBC Sports Washington. The reserve point guard was part of the second quarter surge that saw the Wizards outscore the struggling Cavaliers 20-2 for a 61-34 lead.

“They were on a back-to-back and they haven’t been playing well this year. We felt like with a day off after our last win we could come out aggressively, and just keep it going,” said Satoransky, who had eight points, four assists and three steals in 17 minutes. “Trying to turn the season around.”

The Wizards aren’t naïve enough to think all problems are solved. The three wins came against teams with losing records. Victories over Miami and Orlando included shaky stretches. The big picture hole remains.

“We still have a lot of work to do – we still have to get better,” said Beal, who led Washington with 20 points. “We’re still not content with where we are. We put three [wins] together, but we still have a couple more at home that we have to take care of.”

All of that is true. Numerous gloomy statistics remind the reader of the rough beginnings. Washington entered Wednesday allowing a league-high 118.5 points per game. At least now, the Wizards can contemplate their issues without the weight of the world on their shoulders. For now, the league-wide media will find another target after pillaring the Wizards for weeks. Finally, positive momentum arrived and did so with the Nets, Clippers and Trail Blazers rounding out the homestand.

“I hope we can continue winning,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “We have three more games at home. I think it’s a good moment for us to turn things around. Brooklyn has been playing well and those two [Western Conference] teams are going to be tough, but I think we’re in a good way now.

“It’s great to experience something like that [blowout]. It helps you mentally. It helped just being able to win three in a row. You can feel it. Whenever you step on the court after that you feel more confident, so that’s good.”

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