Marbury Starts as D’Antoni Plays With the Lineup
By HOWARD BECK
Published: October 21, 2008
After three weeks in rotation purgatory, Stephon Marbury was front and center again Tuesday night, albeit probably temporarily and not without predictable static.
Marbury started for the first time this month — out of position, at small forward — as Coach Mike D’Antoni tried some last-minute preseason tinkering. But there was no reason to believe the changes would be permanent, and certainly not after the Boston Celtics pounded the Knicks, 101-90, at Madison Square Garden.
D’Antoni said he wanted to give other players a chance to start and to evaluate different combinations in the final two preseason games. So Marbury, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler started, and Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph and Quentin Richardson went to the bench.
Marbury finished with 14 points, but made more noise during a first-quarter jawing match with Eddie House. Crawford continued his preseason struggles, with 7 points in just under 28 minutes.
In all likelihood, Crawford will be back in the starting lineup for the opener next Wednesday, and Marbury will be back on the bench. The more striking news was that Eddy Curry, another former starter, might not make the rotation at all.
D’Antoni left Curry on the bench for the entire game and afterward indicated that Curry had not earned the playing time.
“He is going to have to play better than what he’s shown me,” D’Antoni said. “He is going to have to pick it up. He is going to have to pick up his training. I’m going to start settling into rotations, and it could be that way.
“The door is never closed, but at the same time we’re not going to lower anything that we do down to anybody. They’re going to have to come up to us. And if they want to play, then I think they know where they got to go.”
D’Antoni traditionally uses a tight rotation of eight or nine players and a consistent starting lineup and is reluctant to make changes once the season begins. D’Antoni cautioned reporters not to “read too much into” the lineup shuffle Tuesday, but it was notable for who it involved.
Crawford expected to thrive in D’Antoni’s system, but he has struggled all month. Marbury was viewed so negatively by the Knicks’ new leadership that some officials wanted him cut before training camp.
Marbury celebrated his first start with some solid play and a vicious verbal duel with House while House was sitting on the bench. It lasted several minutes and several possessions.
After Marbury drew a foul on Kendrick Perkins and hit two free throws, he turned and screamed at House, from midcourt: “You’re a bum!”
When play returned to the Celtics’ side of the court, House chirped, “Don’t worry about me. You better worry about Ray Allen,” whom Marbury was guarding. Marbury shot back, “You’re nothing!” then added, “You’re caught up in basketball. Get caught up in life.”
The lineup change itself created far less of a stir. Marbury and Crawford both played down the switch. D’Antoni indicated it was likely that he would open the season with his original starting five of Chris Duhon, Crawford, Richardson, David Lee and Randolph.
The experiment, if that’s what it was, fizzled quickly. The Knicks fell behind by 26-16 after one quarter — the first time this month that they failed to score at least 20 points in a period. They trailed by 58-34 at halftime, having made a mockery of D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense.
Crawford, surrounded by reporters before the game, seemed bemused by the scrutiny surrounding the lineup change.
“I’m not really worried about it, honestly,” he said, adding that he expected to start opening night. “It’s the preseason, so I’m not reading too much into it.”
D’Antoni did not dismiss the suggestion that Crawford’s performance had something to do with the move. Through five preseason games, Crawford was averaging 9 points and shooting .412 from the field.
“Last year I averaged 5 points and shot 32 percent” in the preseason, Crawford said. “I don’t take it that serious. Obviously, other people do. But whatever, I’ll be ready when the season starts.”
After a slow start, Marbury seems to have found a groove lately, and that also played a role in D’Antoni’s decision.
“In this system, it doesn’t matter who starts or who comes off the bench,” Marbury said. “Like Jamal, if he plays better starting than off the bench, I don’t mind coming off the bench so he can play at a high level.”
Wilson Chandler sprained his left knee in the second quarter and did not return. He injured the same knee April 14, in the Knicks’ last home game of the season, also against the Celtics. “Nothing serious,” Chandler said. “Just a mild sprain.” He said no tests were scheduled. His status for Friday’s preseason finale is uncertain.