Thibodeau addresses Knicks’ Elf-ant in the room; Ntilikina as Trae stopper?

Tom Thibodeau may bury struggling Elfrid Payton on the bench during crucial moments of the game, but he will never throw his beleaguered starting point guard under the bus.

The New York Knicks have reached this far, with Thibodeau sticking to his guns with Payton as a starter. But Payton’s role had been reduced to token starts for the Knicks during the home stretch, with his favorite point guard Derrick Rose taking a larger role off the bench.

“The depth of our team is one of our strengths. There are things that Elfrid provides for us that are big assets to our team — his size, his defense,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. Those are important factors. And then you look at it in totality. How does the team function?”

The Knicks have won 16 of their last 20 games despite Payton’s offensive woes. Payton hasn’t breached the 20-minute barrier since April 28. His confidence took a hit with only a total of six points in their final six games. He shot at an atrocious 3-for-19 from the floor during that ugly stretch.

“As is the case with most players, there will be ups and downs. You don’t have to shoot well to play well. Just go out there and give us what you can. And every game is different,” said Thibodeau of Payton.

“The thing that I love about our team is if someone’s not doing good, another guy steps in, and if he’s doing good, everyone is cheering for that guy. The most important thing is the team winning. That’s where I want the focus to lie,” he added.

Thibodeau was able to hide Payton’s deficiencies with Rose closing out games and Alec Burks getting back in the groove.

Rose and Burks will figure heavily in the rotation as Thibodeau will rely on their playoff experience. The veteran backcourt duo has a combined 63 playoff games under their belts.

“The things that you can do well, focus on those things. The things that you don’t do well, you stay away from those things. Play with your strengths and cover your weaknesses and do that as a team. And if you do that as a team, the team will have success and that’s what we’re focused on,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from Rose and Burks, Thibodeau may reach deep in his pocket in his bid to slow down Trae Young, who averaged 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in three games against the Knicks this season. Thibodeau admitted he’s been contemplating a lot about utilizing Frank Ntilikina, who’s been out of the rotation for most of the season.

“Frank has been sort of that role as a defensive stopper. He adds great value to our team,” Thibodeau said.

“What you guys don’t see is — he and Kevin Knox and a bunch of other guys who are not in the rotation — how hard they work in practice. We value practice greatly. They’re providing a lot to our team. And whatever their strengths are, we’re gonna try to take advantage of that. And we want them to continue to improve, and that’s an important part of what we’re doing here. All our players are critical.”

If Ntilikina manages to sneak into the rotation, it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau will spread out the minutes.

Will Payton’s minutes get further reduced, or will Ntilikina cut into rookie Immanuel Quickley’s playing time?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: Julius Randle on his future with Knicks, secret ingredient in post-season

new york knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks are just two regular-season games away from starting their postseason journey. While they currently contain the final guaranteed playoff spot with the 6th seed, there is potential for the Knicks to maneuver upward. If they can win the next two contests and either Miami or Atlanta lose, they could leapfrog one of them to get a better standing.

Ultimately, home-court advantage would be an astronomical benefit, but even so, the fact the Knicks are in the postseason is somewhat of a miracle. Thanks to a variety of factors, including head coach Tom Thibodeau and the rise of Julius Randle, the Knicks have become not only a destination for stars in the future but a team ready to win now.

Randle, who has one year left on his contract, will likely be seeking a max deal with the Knicks. He will earn nearly $20 million next season. Upper management might be smart to wait and see if he continues dominating at this level. With only one year of elite production, it might be premature to offer him a long-term deal immediately, but Randle wants to stay in New York for the rest of his career.

“I love playing in New York,” Randle said on the Victory Podcast. “I want to retire as a New York Knick.”

Overall, Julius is only 25 years old and could play elite basketball for the 5-6 seasons. If he continues to play at this level, the Knicks shouldn’t hesitate to retain him, as acquiring stars players in free agency has become increasingly more difficult with player options and big money.

The Knicks have a secret weapon for the playoffs:

One of the more underappreciated players on the roster is Alec Berks, who returned from contracting COVID-19 several days ago. After sitting out against the Lakers, Burks bounced back with a vengeance, willing his team to victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday evening. Scoring 30 points and recording 10 rebounds, Burks was unstoppable on offense and was helping his team retain the ball on defense.

Burks is averaging 12.6 points per game this year, including 2.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He shooting .416 from the field and .409 from beyond the arc, one of his better success rates over the course of his 10-year career.

Having Alec healthy and available during the playoffs well prove to be a significant boost, as he offers immediate offense and the ability to hit clutch shots down the stretch.

Knicks keep up in race for No.4 with comeback win over Spurs

The New York Knicks are already in the playoffs, but they just don’t want to crash the party. They want to host a first-round series for their fans.

With Miami (39-31) and Atlanta (40-41) costing to easy victories earlier, there was immense pressure in New York. And with their backs against the wall, the Knicks delivered just like they always did for the most part of the season.

Down 17 late in the third quarter, RJ Barrett rediscovered his shooting touch as the Knicks turned back San Antonio Spurs, 102-98, Thursday night to stay in the hunt for a top-four finish.

“We definitely want that fourth seed,” Barrett said. “We want that homecourt (advantage).”

Barrett waxed hot with 12 points in a 21-2 Knicks run, bridging the last 3:45 of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth period.

Alec Burks punctuated that run with a 3, finishing off what Barrett has started.

Burks scored 16 of his season-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. There was no sign of rust in his return from a three-game layoff due to contused knee. His three-pointer with 3:16 remaining broke the 90-deadlock. He hit another one to extend the Knicks’ lead to four after a DeMar DeRozan basket.

Burks’ explosion off the bench cushioned the impact of Derrick Rose‘s absence. Rose (ankle), who played a season-high 39 minutes in their previous game, was a late scratch. But Tom Thibodeau later revealed it’s nothing serious.

“[He] just needed a day [off],” Thibodeau said about Rose’s situation. “It’s day-to-day. We knew we’re getting a couple of guys back. So we thought it would be good to give him a rest.”

They almost regret it with the Spurs staggering them behind DeRozan’s sweet midrange game and Dejounte Murray hunting the Knicks’ backcourt.

Then Barrett decided to take over and kept the Knicks’ homecourt bid alive.

”He hit big shot after big shot to help make up ground for us,” Thibodeau said of Barrett’s bounce-back performance. 

Julius Randle clocked in his usual all-around game (25 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists) and knocked down a clutch jumper with 56.4 seconds left for a 98-94 Knicks’ cushion.

After Keldon Johnson’s three-point play closed the gap, 98-97, Burks and Barrett sealed the win with four free throws.

Barrett finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, and five assists to bounce back from his eight-point dud against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was 5-for-9 from the three-point zone.

Burks added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

”He’s like a swiss-army knife. We could use him in multiple positions. You can run him to catch-and-shoot. He can run the pick-and-roll. He can post up. There are so many things you can do with him. And he fits wherever you want. He can start or play with the bench,” Thibodeau said of Burks. 

Taj Gibson was also exceptional off the bench as he tallied nine rebounds, four blocks, and six points in 22 minutes.

“We have the right veterans. Those guys have been great for our young guys. They made this team function at a very high level,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from minor hiccups, the Knicks have been playing their best basketball in the homestretch.

They are looking to sweep their back-to-back matinee games against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and Boston Celtics on Sunday while hoping for a Heat loss to jump back to No. 4. But on top of that, they aim to stay sharp as they brace for their first playoffs appearance in eight years. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: Alec Burks COVID update, Rockets must be crushed

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

After a few days of rest, the New York Knicks are gearing up to take on the Houston Rockets on Sunday, and veteran guard Alec Burks is available to return. However, the Knicks are taking it easy with the former first-round pick in 2011, as he fights his way back from COVID-19 in the fatigue that comes with it.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to make sure that Burks is 100% healthy and his stamina is up to par before utilizing him in one of the most important road trips of the year for New York. The Knicks will take on the Houston Rockets on Sunday and take their talents to the West Coast shortly after, where they will play the Phoenix Suns, LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs.

Having Burks available will be extremely influential, and while the Knicks managed to win without him while he recovered from Covid, he has played a massive part in their success this year.

“He’s got to get his conditioning up to speed,” Thibodeau said. “When he’s comfortable, we’ll get him in there.”

Burks is averaging 12.6 points, 2.2 assists, and 4.5 total rebounds per game over 25.8 minutes. He is shooting .414 from the field and .408 from beyond the arc, the best success rate in his entire career. As not only a veteran mentor for the youngsters, he curates instant offense for a team that has lacked in the category at times.

Despite his loss the past few weeks, Thibodeau understands that his team is extremely deep, and they managed to win games without him, but gaining him back is important.

“I think it’s one of the strengths of our club in that we do have a deep team,” Thibodeau said.

Not only do the Knicks have an extremely deep team, but they all also have the same mindset and mentality towards victory. They understand that every single game has significant importance toward their playoff hopes, as they currently said, 1.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.

Knicks News: Alec Burks injury update, Zion Williamson stirring the ‘Melting Pot’

Zion Williamson, knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks are gearing up for a contest against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday evening at 7:30 PM. With the Knicks coming off a victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, they have since extended their win streak to six games.

Thanks to a stellar performance from Julius Randle, who won the Eastern Conference player of the week award, the Knicks are rolling and actually cracked the top 10 power rankings in the NBA.

The last time the Knicks were considered a top 10 team, it must’ve been 2014, and they are sniffing the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They currently sit in sixth place, just .5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, but given their recent success, it is only a matter of time before they take hold of a higher seed.

The Knicks have been winning despite not having some of their more influential players, including Mitchell Robinson and Alec Burks against New Orleans. In fact, Burks will be again out on Tuesday against the Hornets. He’ll be unavailable due to the league’s health and safety protocols and could be available on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, which could catapult the Knicks into fourth place.

The New York Knicks could end up courting Zion Williamson from New Orleans:

After the Knicks’ victory over the Pelicans, Williamson took to the media to express his love for playing at MSG and in New York. In fact, he was a bit ecstatic about the idea of playing in MSG regularly, suggesting to Knick fans he could end up with the squad at some point in the future.

“I mean, New York is the mecca of basketball,” Williamson said. “I love playing here. I played here in college. This is my first time playing in the pros. I mean, this atmosphere — whether they’re cheering for you, whether they’re booing for you, it’s amazing. Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans obviously, I think this might be my favorite place to play. Outside of New Orleans. I can’t even lie to you. I can’t lie to you.”

Williamson is averaging 26.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game this season, and he’s becoming a dominant force in his second year in the NBA. While New Orleans fans probably didn’t want to hear this from their best player and the supposed future of their franchise, Knicks fans were excited and optimistic he could join the team later on.
Even ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski insisted that his comments are worth keeping an eye on down the road.

“He was pretty animated with it,” Wojnarowski said. “It’s certainly something, I think, down the road for people to keep their eye on. But right now, you know, he’s in New Orleans. He’s going to be in New Orleans and they have a window here with the young core that they have to improve, get better, and make him want to stay there.”

Knicks’ Alec Burks has the perfect response to being a secret weapon

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

When the New York Knicks signed 29-year-old guard Alec Burks to a one-year, $6 million deal, nobody expected him to be such an influential piece to the team. In fact, Burks has been one of the best players on the Knicks’ roster this season, averaging 12.6 points per game but regularly breaching 20 points over the past few days. Against the New Orleans Pelicans in the Knicks’ latest victory, Burks posted 21 points and seven total rebounds.

His influence varies, but when Burks is hitting shots efficiently, he is borderline unstoppable. He can create plays and instant offense for a team that lacks in the category. He also represents one of the best players in the fourth quarter for a team that has struggled to close out games this year. Burks detailed his approach toward the fourth quarter and why it’s so different than the rest.

“I think it’s the approach the coach takes earlier in the season, the fourth quarter is different than the other three quarters,’’ Burks said ahead of the Knicks facing the Mavericks on Friday in Dallas. “You got to bring your A-game because it’s going to be a physical quarter because everyone is trying to get the win. I’m trying to help my team any way I can.’’

When Alec decided to come to New York, it wasn’t about the notoriety or attention he would receive, it was about playing basketball for a great organization with a respected coach. He simply wants to win, and he envisioned his future as a playoff contender, a goal that seems likely during an unexpected season for New York.

“I don’t care — I’m not in this to be most popular,’’ said Burks. “I love the game, love helping my teammates. I just want to do what I can to help my team win and get a win out there and make it to the playoffs. I couldn’t care less about getting notoriety for it.’’

The Knicks currently rank sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, and if they can claw their way up to fourth place, which they’re only one game out of, they won’t have to play into the playoffs will have an automatic spot. Burks can keep producing at a high level and offering his instant offense in the fourth quarter, there’s no question the Knicks can do the impossible.

Knicks’ secret offensive weapon strikes again in fourth straight victory

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

For the first time this season, the New York Knicks have won four consecutive games, beating the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers, and New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday evening.

Against New Orleans, the Knicks won by a 10 point margin but didn’t get the showcase they expected from point guard Lonzo Ball. Ball is an expected free-agent target for New York this upcoming off-season, and while he didn’t feature in the contest, there is a reason to believe he will be one of their top targets.

Nonetheless, the Knicks didn’t take it easy on New Orleans, who entered the game with a three-game win streak themselves. In fact, in the last two games, they had scored no less than 116 points, but the Knicks limited them to just 106.

Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram posted a majority of the Pelicans’ scoring production, totaling 53. As for the Knicks, the love was spread around, with Julius Randle earning 32 and Alec Burks posting 21 off the bench.

Burks has been an absolute menace for New York this season, especially in the fourth quarter. He shot 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown, hitting all three of his free throws. He also picked up seven rebounds over 22 minutes played. On the season, Burks is averaging 12.4 points on .410 shooting from the field and .403 from downtown. He’s averaging a career-high 4.9 attempts from three, which indicates how successful he’s been from range.

The veteran guard is currently on a one-year, $6 million deal with New York, and they might consider extending him for next season based on his performance. He is nearly 30 years old, and will be entering the 10th season in the NBA, but as a former first-round pick back in 2011, it is clear he has plenty of value to offer.

He reminds me a bit of JR Smith back in the day when he won the sixth man award. His ability to come off the bench and create instant offense is special, and very valuable.

Knicks’ free agent gem blossoming into integral player as 2021 season wears on

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

The New York Knicks didn’t make any significant moves at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of winning big games. They came extremely close to overcoming the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers last week, and some say they’re missing that extra offensive piece to push them over the edge. However, you could argue that their current roster is capable of winning games against playoff-caliber teams, they just need more time to build chemistry and live-action.

With the way second-year stud RJ Barrett is developing, it seems as if the Knicks will be in good shape moving forward, considering they still have All-Star Julius Randle and Derrick Rose preparing to make a return in the coming days.

One FA gem has proven to be huge for the Knicks:

One low-key gem the Knicks signed in free agency is turning out to be one of their more integral pieces, and his name is Alec Burks. At 29 years old, Burks has been a productive player this season, averaging 13 points over 26 minutes per game. Against the Wizards on Thursday evening, Burks scored 27 points off the bench, going 8-for-18 from the field and hitting 9-of-11 free throws.

It seems as if Alec just does it all, ranging from his aggressive defense to scoring in big moments. His fourth-quarter clutchless has been undervalued all season, but the Knicks are finally beginning to realize he must be on the floor when they need point production. As an adequate shooter, Burks isn’t afraid to launch shots from anywhere on the court, and he’s deceivingly smart with his court vision and dealing the ball with his teammates. His ability to get into space is something that the Knicks have enjoyed lately, and head coach Tom Thibodeau values.

“He just does it all. There’s not any one particular thing. But he’s real good in a lot of different areas,” Thibodeau said of Burks after Thursday’s game. “He can run the team, he can play the point, play off the ball, put it on the floor, can shoot the three, can finish over size.

It’s not only Thibodeau who notices Burks’ value to the team, it’s his teammates as well, who feel comfortable putting the ball in his hands when it matters most.

“AB has been doing it all season,” said RJ Barrett. “That’s what he does. I’ve seen him every day, he’s working hard. Actually, we work out together almost every day. Just really happy to see him doing what he’s doing.

“He’s stepping up big-time for us. We need him and [I’m] very happy we have a guy like that on our team.”

While the Knicks are a young team, they rely on their veterans to carry the load in specific situations. Burks has proved to be a phenomenal free-agent signing this year, and if I were Thibodeau, I would want him around in 2022 as well.

Thibodeau, Randle mad after late costly call sinks Knicks

New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau kept it short while Julius Randle spewed fire after their heartbreaking 101-100 overtime loss Sunday night at The Garden to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“They said we didn’t challenge. Two officials. Tough calls. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau was visibly furious after he was denied to challenge the loose ball foul called on Julius Randle that led to Tobias Harris’ game-winning free throws with 5.3 seconds left in the overtime.

Harris redeemed himself from missing two crucial free throws late in the regulation.

The Knicks still had a chance to win, but Randle’s tough jumper rimmed out at the buzzer.

Randle immediately vented his ire on the officials — only two of them as the third referee Dannica Mosher was a late scratch due to health and safety protocols.

“Blown call by the officials. Not enough contact for them to call the play. Nerlens (Noel), clearly he had possession. After all the fouling and everything that was going on for them to call that and decide the game is f—ing ridiculous. It’s ridiculous! They’ve got to do a better job. There are too many games like this,” Randle said in an explosive postgame interview.

The replays, though, showed Randle slightly shoved Harris with his hands caught clinging to the jersey.

It was the Knicks’ second straight tough defeat against the 76ers this week. Harris, a Long Island native, was also the Knicks’ tormentor in their 99-96 loss earlier this week in Philadelphia.

Randle’s costly foul failed to preserve his heroics in the regulation. The Knicks’ All-Star buried a corner three with 6.4 seconds left to force the overtime.

Alec Burks, who flubbed a fastbreak layup in the fourth quarter, engaged Danny Green in a wild shootout in the extra period.

The Knicks appeared to be in control when they opened a four-point lead, 100-96, on Reggie Bullock’s three with 70 seconds left.

But Harris bailed Philadelphia (30-13) out of trouble, scoring his team’s last five points. The narrow win kept the 76ers in the solo top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Mitchell Robinson returned after missing the Knicks’ last 15 games with a fractured hand. He appeared to be fine, collecting four points—including a putback slam— and six rebounds until he rolled his ankle in the second half. The Knicks’ young center played 17 minutes off the bench.

Immanuel Quickley also came back after a one-game absence and started anew with Derrick Rose (health and safety protocols) and Elfrid Payton (hamstring) still out. But Quickley was rusty as he missed his first five shots and the Knicks trailed by double digits early on.

Philadelphia built its largest lead, 43-29, in the second quarter. Then Quickley came alive. The rookie guard nailed two triples in a 13-0 New York run to end the first half only down by one, 43-42.

Burks scored 20 points off the bench, tallying 16 of them in the fourth quarter and overtime. RJ Barrett had 19 and eight boards while Nerlens Noel also stepped up for the Knicks with a season-high 13 points and 10 rebounds.

But all their efforts went down the drain.

The Knicks slipped to 21-22 and will host the lowly Washington Wizards (15-26), losers of eight of their last 10 games, on Tuesday and Thursday at home.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

From Zero to Hero: Bullock’s steal saves Knicks from Magic’s spell

In a game they desperately needed to win, the New York Knicks found a way to pull through in the end.

Reggie Bullock turned from zero to hero, while Julius Randle took on the playmaking mantle.

The undermanned Knicks survived the Orlando Magic’s scare, 94-93, Thursday night in front of a delirious 2,000 crowd at The Garden.

For the second straight game, the Knicks lost a lead in the fourth quarter, and for the third consecutive game, it came down to the last possession. But this time, they did not cave in to pressure.

An Evan Fournier three-pointer off a Bullock turnover set up the dramatic finish.

Fournier won the tip after forcing Bullock to a jump ball with 22.4 seconds left. Coming from a Magic timeout, Bullock redeemed himself with a steal off Fournier in the final 5.9 seconds to seal the win.

“My mindset is that I just turned it over,” Bullock said after his teammates mobbed him. “I knew I had to step up on the defensive end and get a stop.”

Bullock also stepped up on the offensive end, firing 20 points with six triples to carry the Knicks’ bench as he swapped roles with Alec Burks, who also thrived as a starter.

Thibodeau was forced to make the switch as the Knicks played without their top three point guards—Elfrid Payton (hamstring), Derrick Rose (healthy and safety protocols), and Immanuel Quickley (ankle)—and with Frank Ntilikina struggling since the All-Star break.

Burks scored 21 and added 10 assists, but it was Randle who stepped up big time, dishing out a career-high 17 assists, the most by a non-guard in Knicks history.

Randle also completed his third triple-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the first Knicks player to have three or more triple-doubles in a season since Michael Ray Robinson had seven in 1981-82.

Ntilikina broke out of his slump and pumped in 13 points, mainly from Randle’s setup. The embattled French guard hit two three-pointers in rhythm in the second half to get it rolling before soaring for an And-1 play over Magic center Nikola Vucevic for his night’s highlight. He also hit a corner clutch three that put the Knicks on top, 88-87, with 3:49 left.

RJ Barrett also continued his solid play with 17 points and nine rebounds.

“We just said we need to win the game by any means necessary, and that’s what we did. Guys stepped up, and I’m proud of our team,” Randle said.

It was a character-building win for the Knicks, who almost squandered a 16-point lead in the second half.

After Randle’s three-pointer put them comfortably on top, 72-56, the Magic responded with a 10-0 run to end the third quarter only down by six.

Orlando continued to cast its magic spell and dropped a 9-2 run to take a 75-74 lead. The Magic held a five-point lead twice in the fourth quarter, but the Knicks kept on scratching and clawing back before snatching the much-needed win that moved them back to .500.

The Knicks (21-21) have now matched their total wins last season and move two victories away from breaking the Las Vegas preseason odds (22.5 wins) with still 30 games left.

“Look, I don’t care how we do it. I just want to win. But I thought, you know, just find a way to win,” Tom Thibodeau said.

And the Knicks did.

Their collective spirit pulled them out of the rabbit hole. Their chemistry made all the parts play as a whole.

It was a delight to see them celebrate with such joy. But things can change in an instant if the trade deadline brings a new fancy toy.

”This is the time of the year every team is talking to every team. ‘If [management] feels it can help our team, I’m sure they’ll take a hard look at it,” Thibodeau said before the game.

But he was quick to add: “I love the guys that we have, so that’s all I focus on. Whoever’s here, that’s what we’re working with. And if something’s good for us and they make a move, that’s great, too.”

Watching their special bond play out this night makes you think the front office will ride it out with this group.

But who knows?

We’ll know more what these Knicks are really made of when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers in a grudge rematch on Sunday night.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo