A holiday Garden tradition got smashed Monday when the NBA made the Knicks play their first-ever game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day outside New York City.
Two years ago, the Knicks played their first MLK Day matinee outside the Garden — in Brooklyn — but there were logistical issues with the Grammys at MSG. However, this time the NBA shuttled them to snowy Cleveland playing before a slew of empty seats at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in a 106-86 win over the Cavaliers.
Some members of the Knicks organization were disappointed because it wanted to continue a Garden tradition. Knicks president Steve Mills did not attend Monday’s game.
The Knicks, who were also erased from the league’s Christmas slate of games, are the NBA’s standard bearers for diversity hiring in their front office.
Mills and GM Scott Perry became the first African-American front-office tandem in NBA history and their personnel/scouting staff is a majority of black hires, including Craig Robinson, Harold Ellis, Gerald Madkins, Fred Cofield, Allan Houston and Walker Russell. They had an African-American coach in David Fizdale before firing him in December.
Perry, whose father, Lowell, was the first black assistant coach in the NFL, attended the MLK Day contest. A pregame ceremony was staged flashing back to King’s memorable quotations. The Knicks and Cavs wore pregame T-shirts that read:
“We Cannot Walk Alone.”
The Knicks moved their record on MLK Day to 22-12.
The Knicks and Lakers called off their respective practices to attend David Stern’s private memorial service at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday morning. The Knicks host the Lakers on Wednesday
Cavaliers rookie point guard Darius Garland, selected fifth in the draft, was heavy on the Knicks’ radar with internal discussions to trade back from No. 3. Garland, who was averaging 12.3 points on 40.7 percent shooting, had one of his worst games Monday — going 4 of 20.
According to multiple sources, some members of the coaching staff preferred to trade a few slots back but Perry stuck to his guns, insisting upon RJ Barrett as the pick.
Not only did Garland struggle. Their 2018 lottery pick, point guard Collin Sexton was 6 of 20.
“Shout out to Reggie [Bullock],’’ Elfrid Payton said. “He did a good job on Garland, starting on him. It was a team thing. We knew they were going to get their shots. Just make them as tough as possible.’’
John Beilein, who coached Knicks rookie second-rounder Ignas Brazdeikas at Michigan last season, believes the lefty 6-foot-7 sniper will have an NBA future because of his versatility. Brazdeikas hasn’t been given any opportunity with the Knicks but has excelled for the G-League Westchester Knicks, averaging 19.8 points in 13 games on 48 percent shooting. Brazdeikas did not play versus the Cavs.
“He’s got that size and toughness, he can play different positions at times,’’ Beilein said. “He’s a rugged kid and you can play two small forwards and he can guard a lot of the 4–men in this league. Eventually he’s going to be a player. He’s got to learn the NBA, the spacing defense. He’s got it in him. He played one year of college basketball. That’s the trend right now for a lot of players of his talent level. But there’s a big learning curve awaiting for him in the NBA.’’
In his second interview since getting axed in December, David Fizdale was on “The Jump” and repeated he had no “regret’ but added: “For me personally, the toughest part was that I didn’t fulfill what I went there to do. I wanted to give the fans a relative team, a winner. The fan base was so awesome and so passionate about the team. The fact that I couldn’t get over the hump to where I wanted to get it to; that part is a tough pill to swallow.”
Dennis Smith Jr. (oblique strain), out since Dec. 23, may be cleared to return to action in time for Friday’s game vs. Toronto. He will be reevaluated Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We’ll have a pretty good idea then,” Miller said. “We’ll see if he’s ready.’’