Catching up with David Fizdale

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what was it like coaching the Rising Stars team on Friday night.

It was a great experience, just to be around those guys an get to know some of the young talent in the league. It wasn’t much coaching. People aren’t necessarily there to go all out and compete. As a competitive person, trying to win everything, it’s very difficult for me to be a part of that.

I’m sure the defense was fun to coach.

Yea. That’s the hardest part. Guys don’t want to put forth any effort in that scenario. They just want to score a few baskets and do some things. The difference in the teams was they have three or four guys that only know one speed. The Kenneth Farieds, the [Kawhi] Leonards, Isaish Thomas. Those guys play one speed and that’s it. They don’t have a downshift. Even in an All-Star game you saw they were flying. Those guys end up just making everyone else look bad. But from an experience standpoint, it was great. To be a part of All-Star Weekend, that’s a part of history no matter how you slice it. And it’s something that I dreamed about as a kid growing up. One day being a part of that weekend.

You talked in the past about how it’s been a different journey for you, having not been a former player. Working with players like Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade, guys have learned to respect you over the years. How was that experience for you at All-Star Weekend and how are all these other guys viewing you now as a coach?

It actually was great. Because I’ve coached in different places with different guys, I think these guys have been talking to those guys. They were like, “oh yea I was talking to this guy about you and he told me to tell you, ‘hi.’ So it was already like I had an instant connection with some of these guys, an instant chemistry and instant respect because of other guys that I’ve coached and been around. Like Brook Lopez, the first thing he said to me was, ‘man Joe Johnson talks about you all the time. He told me to tell you hi.’ That makes you feel good that you built that kind of relationship with prior players. Being a part of it was a really great experience.

Now that you guys are back and have had your first practice in about three weeks, what do you want to see from the team?

I just want to see us get better. I don’t think we’ve tapped in anywhere near how good we can be with this team. We just saw a glimpse of it the last six games, but I think ultimately we can really take some big strides in the next two months and guys can really get comfortable and get a true grasp on their roles on the team. I think the sky is the limit for us if we just really keep committing to getting better every day. Today was one of those days. We had a great practice today. Guys were energetic about it. There was no jet lag for the first practice. I think it’s good that we’re going on the road to start it. Jump right into the fire and get reconnected because it’s just us on the road and see what happens.

Does it bother you guys that you aren’t top-10 in defensive efficiency?

There are two ways to look at it. You can be disappointed about it and mope about it or you can use it as a gauge and say, ‘hey, we’ve got room to improve.’ I think that’s how Spo is looking at it. We started off in the lower 20s. So we really took some big strides to get where we are. So now it’s time to really put it all together and really dial it in on the defensive end. Build the trust that’s necessary to take it to the playoffs to give yourself a chance.

Months ago you said that you spent most of training camp on offense, so that first month or so probably didn’t surprise you.

Right. Then you add two new guys into your defense, now three with Bird, and those guys have to learn the system and learn how to trust as well because it’s all connected. I just want us to get better. That ranking alone is just a gauge to show us, ‘look, improve right here.’ And we can really recommit and get better on the defensive end.

Your defensive numbers in clutch situations (last five minutes in games decided by five points are less) have been off the charts. Does that give you a certain comfort level?

Well, what it does is it gives the coaches something to point at and say, ‘this is the level we need to play at and the level we know we can play at. And we have to do it for longer stretches.’ So you have an example right there. Those last five minutes of games, that’s our example that we can show them we need for the other 43 minutes of the game.

Do you do the same thing for five-man lineups? Do you know which are performing well defensively?

Yea. We have all of those stats and things like that to show it. But ultimately it’s going to come down to every guy that plays for us has to defend at a high level. We shouldn’t have particular lineups that are that much better defensively if we’re committed to doing what we’re doing systematically.

How did you start to incorporate Chris Andersen when he started? The HEAT’s defense is not conventional. How do you teach him this defense?

The hard stuff is just you’re teaching on the fly. A lot of film. You try to do it in some breakdown drills. You’re talking him through it through games. And he’s a pro. He knows some of the basic stuff. A lot of teams in the NBA do similar things, but to get the whole system…he probably won’t get it until the playoffs, where he really has a decent comfort with it. I don’t know if he’ll ever have a total comfort with it this year. But the best part about him is he’s such a defensive player and such a live body that he can make up for his mistakes with what he does naturally.

Is it fair to say that the defensive system, it’s high risk/high reward and that’s what makes it almost better suited for the playoffs than some other, safer, more containment based systems?

You know what it is? It’s only high risk when one guy is breaking down. The risk comes with the fact that it takes all five guys to play our defense and they all have to be doing their job at the same time for it to work. So if one guy is not with it, yeah, it’s high risk for sure. But if we’re really dialed in and all five guys are talking and really concentrating on their job in that situation, then I think it’s low risk, high reward.

That energy level is what you expect to be there in the playoffs?

Has to be. Absolutely.

We’ve talked a little bit about LeBron post up stuff the last few years. The last couple of weeks, what did you think about his stretch? Including the playoffs, is that the best you’ve ever seen him play?

I love it, but no. He had a couple of games in the playoffs that were more outrageous than those games. But just from a stretch standpoint, as efficiency and things like that, it was pretty remarkable what he was doing. But if you watch those games and what he was doing, he wasn’t trying to be spectacular. He was doing efficient things. He was taking advantage of the matchup in the situation, using his brain and then putting his body in the right situations. That’s why it was efficient, like in his post up game. They put Matthews on him in Portland and he’s 6’1, so LeBron just said, ‘I’m 260 and I’m going to put you in the basket.’ And that’s just using what he had in a certain situation. When they put bigger people on him, he pulled them away from the hoop, we opened the floor for him and he ran by them.

Why didn’t that happen in OKC when they put Westbrook on him? I noticed he was slipping picks a fair amount.

Absolutely. We put him in space so he could have the option to do what he wanted to do. So if he wanted to slip to the basket and get to the post or backdoor like he got the one lob, he could do it. Otherwise we put him on the elbow and he could look over Westbrook and execute our offense the way he wanted to. So when we put him at the elbow, we ended up getting a three for Shane because Westbrook wasn’t even there. He just looked right over him. We just constantly tried to put LeBron in as many situations that were advantageous for him.

Is that the biggest difference that you see in him now compared to two years ago? He has all these skills and he’s in control over everything.

Yea. He understands where we’re going to put him. He understands the system very well. Spo has done a great job building the system around him to highlight him and obviously he’s improved in some areas. You put that all together and you kind of have that perfect storm for six games and it was fun to watch.