Latrell Sprewell says poor play -- not poor coaching -- has been the problem this season for the New York Knicks.
"We haven't played well, we haven't done the little things to win those close games," Sprewell said Monday night after he did a lot of big things to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 108-102, New York's second straight victory after losing four of its previous six.
Sprewell, who scored a season-high 28 points, commented after being asked if the team was trying harder to win to save the job of coach Jeff Van Gundy, who reportedly is in danger of being fired.
"A lot of what's going on with the coach is our fault," Sprewell said. "Yeah, It's a refelection on us, not him. I've said all along it's up to us to get the job done. Me, personally, I've felt that I haven't been playing as well as I know that I'm capable of playing. I'm just trying to stay focused mentally and stay in the game and do the little things to get us the win."
Van Gundy was happy, but not because the win might have given him a bit more job security.
"I don't know (if it will help)," Van Gundy said. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help our team win."
Allan Houston chipped in 22 points and Larry Johnson 21 as the Knicks beat the Bucks for the first time after a pair of one-point losses earlier this month. New York won even though leading scorer and rebounder Patrick Ewing was sideline with tendinitis in his left Achilles.
Milwaukee, led by Ray Allen's 29 points, has lost three stright games since its blockbuster three-team trade last week. But coach George Karl is not sure the losses are due to the trade, which has left him without a quality starting point guard since Terrell Brandon was traded and Sam Cassell, his replacement, is on the injured list with a sprained right ankle.
"My gut feeling," Karl said, "is we just have had a couple of strange games. But two weeks or a month from now, I might have a different feeling."
Karl is more upset his team has started sluggishly, including allowing the Knicks to score 30 points in the first period.
"I am most concerned about the way in which we are starting games. I may need to start new people tomorrow. We are not playing good defense in the first quarter. They are starting poorly," he said.
The good start allowed the Knicks to gain confidence early, and they stayed strong into the fourth quarter when the Bucks finally made a run at them.
Allen scored six straight points and his 3-pointer with 2:08 left pulled the Bucks within six, 100-94, but Sprewell's jumper 25 seconds later boosted the Knicks' lead back to eight. Vinny Del Negro's basket with 17.3 seconds left narrowed New York's lead to 104-100, but Chris Childs made two free throws two seconds later for a six-point advantage and the Knicks hung on to win.
"I was really happy with their energy level, their toughness down the stretch," Van Gundy said.
Sprewell came up big at almost every key point in the game and at times was almost unstoppable.
"New York is explosive with Sprewell," admitted Del Negro, "but we can't allow teams to score that easily."
Sprewell scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the last two minutes of the third quarter to help the Knicks take an 84-73 lead into the final period.
After New York ran off seven straight points to open the third quarter and lead 63-51, the closest Milwaukee came in the period was at 66-62 on a 3-point play by Armen Gilliam.
Childs scored eight points in the second period to lead the Knicks to a 56-51 halftime lead. After Glenn Robinson scored to pull Milwaukee within three at 51-48, Childs sank a jumper and Johnson followed with a 3-pointer for a 56-48 advantage.
Sprewell contributed four points in a 6-0 run in the final 46 seconds of the first period, two on a thunderous dunk with 4.5 second remaining, to give the Knicks a 30-25 lead.
The NBA fined Milwaukee coach George Karl $25,000 for criticizing management of the Seattle Super Sonics, his old team. ... Chris Gatling made his debut for the Bucks and had 10 points and eight rebounds ... New York center Patrick Ewing remains day-to-day with tendinitis in his left Achilles. ... Sprewell's previous season-high was 24.
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved