Julius Randle downplays Knicks-Hawks Christmas showdown: It’s just another game

Julius Randle is hyped to play on Christmas Day, but it’s not because he’ll face the Atlanta Hawks, the team that foiled him and his New York Knicks in last season’s NBA playoffs.

For Randle, it means much bigger than who is their opponent.

“Playing in the Christmas game is always an honor. Those are big games that you want to be a part of. Those are definitely the games that the NBA highlights. The fact that you have a Christmas game is a huge honor,” Randle said on The Jump on Wednesday.

It will signal the Knicks’ return to the holiday games after a two-year absence. Randle views it as a recognition of the winning culture they established in New York last season.

With Randle growing into an All-Star and an All-NBA forward, the Knicks finished fourth in the regular season that ushered their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But despite a career season that saw him won the Most Improved Player award, Randle could not elevate his game in the playoffs with the Hawks defense ganging up on him. On the flip side, Trae Young soared higher and emerged as the new Garden villain leading the Hawks all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the Hawks, this will be their first Christmas game since 1989. They are 9-11 on the holiday games, while the Knicks hold a 22-31 record and the most Christmas games by any team in the NBA.

“Being the fact that it’s Atlanta, you know for me it’s just another game,” Randle said. “You know, it’s all part of the process, of our season on what we want to build and to be where we want to be at the end of the season. Everything is game by game. Obviously, there’s a lot of anticipation and a lot of stuff because of the first round series (last season). But I’m just looking forward to being able to have that experience of playing at Christmas in front of my family and friends. It will be cool.”

For the Knicks fans who have already circled this game on their calendar, it will be a lot cooler to have their revenge game on Christmas Day.

Randle will be playing his fourth Christmas game, but it will be his first under the Knicks. He holds a 1-2 record on the holiday games with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that originally drafted him. He averaged 13.3 points on 47 percent shooting with 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.7 steals in those three Christmas games.

Randle is looking forward to another crazy atmosphere in his first Christmas game at the Garden, like the one he experienced during the playoffs.

“Absolutely insane! It goes crazy! That’s intense energy,” Randle said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of crazy games — national championship in my hometown at Cowboys Stadium, playing in Kobe’s last game — but I’d definitely say the intensity and energy of the Knicks fans at the Madison Square Garden was definitely the most fun experience so far.”

The Knicks-Hawks showdown will open the four-game Christmas Day schedule at 12 noon (ESPN).

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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