Frank Four The Win: Knicks reach .500, tie Raptors at No. 4

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Julius Randle won the duel of NBA All-Star forwards, then Frank Ntilikina stole the thunder in the end.

The seldom-used French guard completed a steal with 4.7 seconds left, then buried two pressure-packed free throws that preserved Randle’s big game and lifted the New York Knicks to a 110-107 win over the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden.

The come-from-behind win at the start of a back-to-back schedule pushed the Knicks to .500 and tied the Toronto Raptors (17-17) for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

“We didn’t start the game well. It was funky. We have to work our way through. It was a long game. But the most important thing is we found a way to win in the end,” Tom Thibodeau said. “A lot of people stepped up and made big plays.”

One of them was Randle, who delivered big on both ends.

The first-time All-Star finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four steals. It was Randle’s ninth game with a 25-10-5 stats line this season, tied for the second-most in a season in Knicks history, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Bob McAdoo holds the record with 15 during the 1977-78 season.

But more than closing in on the franchise record, Randle helped the Knicks won the regular-season series against Indiana by locking up fellow All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis was held down below his average (21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds) and could only cough up 15 and 7 against five turnovers in 37 minutes.

With Sabonis frustrated, former Knicks Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott carried the Pacers’ offense and combined for 33 points through the first three quarters. Then the Knicks defense held them scoreless the rest of the way.

But the Pacers stretched Thibodeau’s thinning rotation in this game.

Two nights after the Knicks scored a season-high 140 points, they found themselves staring at an 8-0 hole at the start. The Pacers extended it to 16.

To compound the Knicks woes, they lost Taj Gibson to an ankle injury, leaving them with only Nerlens Noel as their lone big man.

“Next man up. We’ve got more than enough with the players that we have,” Thibodeau said afterward.

“I know Leon (team president Leon Rose), and Wes (executive vice president William Wesley), and Scott (GM Scott Perry) will look into players that are available. That’s their area. I’m just focused on the guys we have. We’ll figure out a way,” added Thibodeau putting pressure on the front office to get him frontline help.

Thibodeau had to dig deep, employing Randle as a center with Kevin Knox at four. The small ball worked for a while as the Knicks ended the second quarter with an 11-3 run. They forced the Pacers to three turnovers in the last 2:26 of the opening half and pushed the ball to take a 54-52 lead at the break.

New York built a nine-point lead, 89-80, in the fourth quarter but Indiana, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, refused to quit. They came back behind unheralded guard Edmon Sumner and took a 98-93 lead. Barrett and Randle responded with a 9-0 run as the Knicks took the lead back, 102-98.

Noel played for extended minutes (41:15) and still delivered. He had eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks, a crucial steal, and two free throws with 1:15 left that gave New York a breathing room, 106-103.

Randle extended the Knicks lead to five, 108-103, on two free throws off Sabonis’ fourth foul. But Sabonis made up for it with a three-pointer at the top of the key to cut the lead down to two.

RJ Barrett, who also had a big night (24 points and 7 rebounds), missed two free throws that set up Ntilikina’s endgame heroics.

With Randle nursing five fouls, Thibodeau pulled the defensive ace up his sleeve.

The gambit paid off.

Rose had another strong game with 17 points, a season-high 11 assists, and four steals in his second start. His active hands led to Ntilikina’s pivotal play.

“It looked like Sabonis was being shaky with the ball. I saw the guard was at the top. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. I saw the ball was going back, and I just tried to go for it. It was just perfect timing, and Frank was able to get the ball,” Rose said of the game-sealing play.

Now the Knicks will travel to Detroit with a chance to move above .500 against the Pistons and the rejuvenated Dennis Smith Jr.

The former Knick, who was traded for Rose, is coming off his best game of the season (17 points and six assists) in a road loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Smith has scored in double figures in his last three games, averaging 14 points, 4.7 assists, and shooting 53 percent during that stretch.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: When The Garden comes alive in new normal

Three hours before the Madison Square Garden opened its doors to fans for the first time in almost a year last Tuesday, Anthony Donahue was the first to show up.

Donahue, a New York Knicks superfan, anxiously waited for 352 days for this moment to arrive.

“It was tough, Donahue told Empire Sports Media while he was preparing to attend his second straight Knicks game last Thursday. “Everything has been tough the last 11 months — personal trials and tribulations. When you’re going through something personal, and you don’t have [any place to go] — for me, my favorite place to go in the world is the Madison Square Garden. So to not have that for 11 months, it’s tough.”

 

The music in The Garden hit different for Donahue in an emotional return. It was a bittersweet moment for him.

“I was thinking about my little sister, who passed away from brain cancer back in August at the age of 21, and how I’ve been bringing her to Knicks game all her life. And she’s not here physically with me anymore. Even when she was not with me at the games, she was texting me, telling me to bring her home popcorn or food, or asking me who I saw because people at The Garden are family to me. I was thinking about her the whole time,” Donahue said.

Gianna Gregoire and Anthony Donahue stand at center court before the Knicks-Celtics game on Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of Anthony Donahue

The Knicks superfan found solace in The Garden, where the special bond and fandom he shared with his sister Gianna Gregoire will forever be remembered.

A season ticket holder since 2004, Donahue had become one of the most famous fans at the world’s most famous arena, even parlaying his passion into a career when he hosted a Knicks-centric podcast show for SNY. His first indoctrination to The Garden’s mystic began during the Knicks’ Finals run in 1994. In 2001, just as the Knicks started their plummet to the dark ages, Donahue remained loyal and started regularly going to the games.

This season is one of the better times to be a Knicks fan. The Knicks are winning some games.

They are playoff hunting instead of tanking.

Imagine the Knicks fans’ agony of not having the chance to watch their beloved team rock The Garden on some nights.

“The waiting part was tough, man! You’re used to going to games. I’ve been a ticket holder for 29 years, so it kinda sucked not being able to get into your normal routine, and the fact that the team was playing really well made it even worse. We haven’t seen good basketball in a while,” another Knicks superfan Greg Armstrong told Empire Sports Media.

Greg Armstrong posed for a souvenir photo during his return to The Garden. Photo courtesy of Greg Armstrong

Armstrong, a ShopRite supermarket manager, has been a Knicks fan since the 1973 championship team, which he said he followed religiously on Channel 9.

Basketball is a religion in New York. If Rucker Park and the other city playgrounds are the chapels, the Mecca is the basilica.

“We all know what basketball means to the city. We’re excited about it. There’s nothing like it, there’s no place like the Madison Square Garden, there’s no place in the league like that,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau before Tuesday’s game. “Our fans are our lifeline.”

Every Knicks game equates to a day of worship for the fans. Pilgrims from all over New York and even from outside of the five boroughs come together and transform The Garden into a basketball paradise where players love to indulge.

For almost a year, the fans were confined to watching the games on TV, following and passionately debating every news and rumor on social media.

So last Tuesday, that joy, which COVID-19 took away, returned, albeit only experienced by a small group of Knicks fans.

“Being one of the few [people] to attend was special because it was like our own private experience and one that I’ll look back on as a once in a lifetime (I hope!),” David Perlmutter told Empire Sports Media.

“My first thought last [Tuesday] night was wow, no one is here! I knew it was only 10 percent, but until I arrived, I could not grasp the size of The Garden compared to 10 percent attendance. It was like we were part of an incredibly private club, which I guess I kind of was.”

After the game, a Knicks spokesperson told reporters that their first attempt at bringing back some sense of normalcy was a success. The sold-out crowd of 1,981 were able to clear all health protocols.

“Everyone was wearing a mask and following the rules, and at one point, my friends and I were congregating in the lobby, and they told us to split up,” Armstrong said.

“It was strict, but it was smooth. You have to make sure you have your COVID-19 test result with you, show your ID, and stuff like that. I didn’t have any problem nor noticed anybody who encountered a problem,” Donahue added.

If Donahue shared his Knicks fandom with his late sister, Perlmutter shares his passion with his son. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop them from continuing their father-and-son bonding last Tuesday.

“I was with my son Levi who is 6 yrs old, and he has been coming with me since he was 2+ with noise-canceling headphones. Since I’ve been going to games with him, I have very little interest in going to any games without him. Watching the game through his eyes is my favorite thing to do,” Perlmutter said.

David Perlmutter and his son Levi enjoy the Knicks-Warriors game, marking the first time that limited fans are allowed in the Madison Square Garden. Photo courtesy of David Perlmutter

Perlmutter, a managing partner of the Forrest Hills Financial Group, has been a Knicks fan since 1992 and a season ticket holder since 2005. But last Tuesday, he saw The Garden in a different light.

“It was the first time I was able to tour The Garden, which was cool. We went up to the bridge to get a close-up view of the retired banners and walked through the Bud Light district. I have never been before to both areas despite having been able to attend hundreds of games. It was a unique experience to watch my son run around all these areas without worrying about losing him in a crowd or him bumping into people,” Perlmutter said.

With only a limited number of fans allowed initially, The Garden had a small-town church vibe where everyone knows each other.

“It’s great to be back. It’s not how it used to be, but hopefully, it will again soon. I was with my good friend Elgin (Swift). I enjoyed it, and it was a time to catch up with some people. I saw some of the security guards, ushers, and team employees I haven’t seen in a while. I saw some fans I hadn’t seen in a while. Considering the situation, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t as hectic or as crazy as I may have thought. It was an extremely smooth night,” Donahue said.

Donahue enjoyed everything except the fact that the Knicks lost a close call to the Golden State Warriors.

“We didn’t play our best basketball, but I love our team. Of course, we’re not a championship team. But we’re a team that plays hard, plays defense, personifies our head coach Tom Thibodeau. It kinda makes fans feel a little nostalgic about the 90s team we love so much because of the type of defense they play,” Donahue said.

While a Knicks win could have been a perfect ending for Donahue’s emotional return to The Garden, he was appreciative of the experience and put things in proper perspective.

“I just didn’t want to lose the first game back. I’m a die-hard Knicks fan. I don’t even want to lose a preseason game. I’m definitely upset after the game as far as losing. I want that win so bad. But all in all, when I got home, I was thankful that I was back to The Garden, thankful that I got to see some of the New York fans’ faces. And just thankful to be alive, just thankful and cherish every moment that we have in this beautiful life,” Donahue said.

Two nights later, Donahue finally got to experience a Knicks victory in the new normal. The Knicks handily beat the lowly Sacramento Kings, 140-121, where The Garden was rocking the whole night.

The fans have found comfort in their beloved team under this COVID-19 pandemic. The Knicks have managed to thrive too under difficult circumstances.

Devoid of a superstar, the Knicks produced an All-Star in Julius Randle. They found a hidden gem in rookie Immanuel Quickley. Thibodeau has made the Knicks believe again.

A coach plucked from the Knicks’ storied past has transformed the league’s laughingstock into a bunch of overachievers with defense as its bedrock.

The Knicks are winning. New York basketball is back on the map.

This is the new normal for Donahue, Armstrong, Perlmutter, and all the Knicks fans.

The Garden comes alive in the new normal.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Warriors spoil Randle’s All-Star coronation, Knicks’ fans return

A sold-out and socially distanced crowd of 1,981 returned to The Garden for the first time in 352 days. But Stephen Curry also returned from a one-game absence and dropped 37 points as the Golden State Warriors continued their mastery over the New York Knicks, 114-106, on Tuesday night.

It was the seventh straight Golden State win at The Garden since 2014.

Curry outplayed Julius Randle in an All-Star showdown. The Warriors’ All-Star guard had 26 points in the second half, including the biggest shots and plays down the stretch.

Randle’s night started with his first All-Star selection and MVP chants, but it ended ugly with his first ejection of the season.

Despite a rough shooting night (8-of-21), Randle still had a near triple-double to lead the Knicks. He produced 25 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists before frustrations got the better of him in the final 17.5 seconds.

The Knicks stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the second half and even tied the game at 97-all.

But Curry came through in the clutch, scoring 10 points in the final 3:38 to put the game away.

Draymond Green was also a difference-maker for the visiting team. The do-it-all big man filled up the stats sheet — 7 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, and 2 assists — that more than made up for his ejection in their first meeting this season which Knicks won, 119-104, on the road.

It wasn’t only Randle who struggled offensively for the Knicks.

RJ Barrett had an atrocious 1-for-9 shooting and finished with only four points. He also missed a crucial free throw with 86 seconds left that could have closed the gap to just two. To his credit, he pulled down 10 rebounds.

The Knicks’ point guards tried to keep in step with Curry to no avail.

Derrick Rose snapped out of his slump and had 16 points and eight assists off the bench. Elfrid Payton also dished out a solid game, finishing with 20 points and limiting Curry to 11 in the first half.

The Knicks led by four, 59-55, at the break. But a third-quarter disaster doomed them and silenced the crowd, which let out their bottled-up emotions in the opening half.

Knicks rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin offered contrasting performances, playing in front of the home fans for the first time.

Quickley played tentative and struggled offensively for the fourth straight game. He only scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 13 minutes.

On the other hand, Toppin was energized by his hometown crowd, which included his parents. The Brooklyn native was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field in 13 minutes. He had a highlight dunk and a huge three-pointer that cut the Warriors’ lead to two in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks blew another chance to get to .500, dropping to their second loss in the last three games. They remained at the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a 15-17 record.

The Knicks will have two more chances — Sacramento Kings on Thursday and Indiana Pacers on Saturday — to make up for their home fans.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks finally have an All-Star: Julius Randle named to East’s reserves

The New York Knicks‘ road to respectability got a much-needed shot in the arm after Julius Randle got his first All-Star nod.

Randle, the leader of the Knicks’ resurgence this season, was among the seven reserves voted by the coaches, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“It would mean a lot,” Randle said of the All-Star selection via zoom call with reporters after the Knicks’ shootaround on Tuesday morning.

“My goal was never just to play in the NBA. I always felt that I would get there. I just wanted to be the best player I could possibly be and reach my potential. And I try to push myself every day to do so. It would definitely be a milestone.”

The selection is a validation of the new Knicks’ culture laid out by new team president Leon Rose and first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.

The seven-year forward constantly faced double-teams, finally getting the respect he’s been longing for since coming into the league as a lottery pick (seventh overall) in 2014.

“I think I get that validation how they play me every night. With the double teams,” Randle said.

“How they try to game plan. All that type of stuff. Obviously the All-Star nod would be amazing. Every player strives to do that, or whatever the case may be.”

Thibodeau pointed out that Randle’s impact on winning would weigh heavily. He was right.

Randle is having a career season leading the Knicks to a 15-16 record entering Tuesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors.

Roughly 2,000 fans will celebrate and cheer for Randle and the Knicks when they take the floor at The Garden, marking the first time it allows fans in New York arenas in almost a year.

Randle is averaging 23.2 points, shooting 41 percent from deep, 11.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists in 36.8 minutes, all career-highs.

He became the first All-Star selected from the Knicks since Kristaps Porzingis in 2018. Porzingis, though didn’t play in the game due to his ACL injury.

Barring any injury, Randle will be the first player to play in the mid-season classic since Carmelo Anthony in 2017.

Randle earned $945,000 for his selection, and he stands to double that if the Knicks reach the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Front Office Insider Bobby Marks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Beal or No Deal: Knicks reportedly interested in Beal; Barrett on the move?

Is Bradley Beal New York-bound?

Beal remained adamant that he’s not quitting on the Washington Wizards. But an influential New York Knicks executive is reportedly cooking up a Beal trade.

Last week, Michael Kay reported that Knicks vice president and senior basketball advisor William Wesley, more famously known as World Wide Wes, is working through back channels to land Beal in New York.

“I’ve got it from a very good source that the Knicks are quietly interested in a Bradley Beal. How’s that gonna happen? He’s signed to a long-term deal. He has not said he wanted to be traded. But you forget, the Knicks have World Wide Wes on their side. He’s been in the ears of some of Beal’s people and kinda nudging them that this might be the time to push for a trade,” Kay said on his ESPN radio show last week.

Brightest star in the biggest market

Beal is fresh from getting his first All-Star starter nod, ranking first in fans, media, and players’ votes among all Eastern Conference guards. He’s leading the league in scoring with a career-high 32.8 points per game on 47/34/90 shooting splits. The 27-year old star is also putting up career-best 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. But despite his spectacular numbers, the Wizards are in the bottom three in the East though they have won their last three games.

On the flip side, things are getting rosy in New York. The Knicks are in the playoff conversations and are quickly becoming an attractive destination. New team president Leon Rose, along with Williams and head coach Tom Thibodeau, has dramatically changed New York’s culture.

The appeal to Beal in New York is a chance to become the biggest star in the biggest NBA market. And if he wins in New York, that will cement his basketball legacy.

Aggressive buyer

Along with their early on-court success, a treasure trove of picks, and a $15 million cap space, the Knicks are in a prime position to be an aggressive buyer in the trade market.

They own all their first-round picks plus two more from Dallas via the Kristaps Porzingis trade. All in all, the Knicks have seven first-round picks and eight second-rounders through the 2025 NBA Draft.

Stefan Bondy of the Daily News reported that the Knicks are also monitoring CJ McCollum’s situation in Portland. But ESPN’s Front Office Insider and former Brooklyn Nets’ assistant general manager Bobby Marks told Empire Sports Media that the Trail Blazers are not trading him.

Potential Beal package

If Beal and the Wizards decide to part ways, the asking price would be in the James Harden trade neighborhood.

When asked what the Wizards could seek from the Knicks in exchange for their long-time cornerstone, Marks told Empire Sports Media that it would require giving up both the first-round picks from Dallas (2021 unprotected, 2023 top-10 protected), a minimum of two unprotected first-round picks, pick swaps and sophomore swingman RJ Barrett. 

A package like that could still leave the Knicks in a good position to contend in the East with a core of Beal, Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley, all of whom are still under 30 years old and plenty of cap space to chase another star.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Calipari explains Payne’s impact on Randle’s All-Star rise

The New York Knicks‘ status as a real playoff contender will be legitimized by a Julius Randle selection in the NBA All-Star Game.

Randle is knocking on the All-Star Game door after an impressive start to the season. He’s dragging a young Knicks team to the playoffs conversations in a season many analysts thought would be a lottery year.

Randle is in the midst of a career year in the NBA — 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 40.7 percent from deep, all career-highs. And more importantly, as Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Randle has impacted winning in New York.

With Randle leading the way, the Knicks have won 14 of their first 30 games, good for the seventh spot in the East. Barring any second-half meltdown, the Knicks are on pace to outplay ESPN‘s projections (24.7 average wins and 2% playoff chances).

Randle’s Herculean effort hasn’t gone unnoticed as he finished seventh in the Eastern Conference frontcourt starters voting — seventh in fans votes, eighth in players votes, and fifth in media votes.

The coaches are set to pick the seven reserves, which will be announced on Tuesday.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Randle revealed in the Old Man and the Three podcast yesterday that the Knicks executive vice president William Wesley called him in the offseason and asked him what he needs to go to the next level.

His response foreshadowed what is happening right now: “I need a coach who will push me and hold me accountable.”

Tom Thibodeau is what Randle has ordered. But he got more than what he bargained.

Kenny Payne, the man responsible for whipping Randle and a slew of Kentucky big men into becoming an NBA lottery pick, also came on board.

“One of the things that I told the Knicks when they were considering Kenny is that: ‘Understand now, if you want to see what Julius can be — he’s a good guy because they have a great relationship and Kenny will push him and make him uncomfortable until he’s comfortable being uncomfortable.’ You know how it’s done,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told Empire Sports Media via zoom call.

Unlocking Knox

Calipari also sold Payne to the Knicks as the key to unlocking their other underwhelming Kentucky product.

“And I also told them Kevin Knox, who was playing really good early, you’re gonna find out what he is,” Calipari said.

For the early part of the season, when injuries ravaged the Knicks, Knox had his moments. At one point, he was leading the league in corner three-pointers. However, it was short-lived as the team got healthy and Knox got buried under the Knicks’ new-found depth.

“They’re not playing [Kevin] as much because they’re trying over guys to play snippets and trying to figure out who’s who. But I think it’s been great,” Calipari said.

Big man’s whisperer

At Kentucky, Payne was the good cop to Calipari’s bad cop. In New York, Payne does the dirty work for Thibodeau.

Payne is always on the ears of the Knicks’ big men. Clips of him personally training the Knicks’ frontcourt — from Randle to Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin — went viral in the offseason. Oftentimes, on the MSG broadcast, you catch him in the pregame, stretching out Randle and assisting in his shootaround. During the games, you see him barking instructions or explaining the game situations to players from the sidelines.

Randle’s reunion with Payne made his transformation under the very detailed and hard Thibodeau coaching more effective.

“Julius is having an All-Star year. And the Knicks, if they stay in this playoff hunt, and they’re in there, there’s no reason — Julius in the biggest market had averaged in double-double just dragging the team and motivating his team and doing what he’s doing — for that not to happen for him personally,” Calipari said.

If it does happen, thanks in large part to Payne.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks fall under Magic’s spell in tough loss

Terrence Ross outscored the entire New York Knicks‘ bench as the Orlando Magic rolled to a convincing 107-89 victory on Wednesday night.

Ross fired 18 of his season-high 30 points, presiding over Magic’s breakaway from a tight first half.

The Knicks shot 54 percent in the opening half and led by as many as 11 behind Julius Randle’s 17 points. But the Magic tightened their defense and started packing the paint.

“It was really the second quarter. Normally, our bench is a big plus for us, and we lost an 11-point quickly. We didn’t challenge shots the way we should have, and they got going,” Thibodeau said.

The spark Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley usually provided off the bench went missing. The duo typified the Knicks’ offensive woes, shooting a combined 2-for-22 from the field.

If there is one man in the NBA who can figure out Tom Thibodeau, it’s Magic’s coach Steve Clifford. Both coaches spent years together from the Knicks to the Houston Rockets as assistant coaches under Jeff Van Gundy.

Orlando outscored New York, 30-14, in the third quarter and turned a 53-56 halftime deficit into a 13-point lead.

Led by Ross, who was all over the court with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks, the Magic’s bench outscored their Knicks’ counterpart, 42-26.

The loss snapped the Knicks’ three-game winning streak and prevented them from reaching .500. They fell to 14-16 with six games left before the All-Star break.

The Knicks’ offense turned stagnant as they ran into a maze of errors and forced shots. The Magic’s defense held the Knicks to only 26 percent from the field and six assists in the second half.

Randle outplayed Nikola Vucevic in a battle of All-Star candidates but drew little help.

Vucevic got his usual double-double (16 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists) but only shot 8-for-24 from the field.

Randle picked up from where he left off and dropped 13 points in the opening quarter as the Knicks seized a 30-19 lead. Then the Magic zeroed in on him on defense.

Despite that, Randle still came away with 25 points on 11-of-19 field goals, seven rebounds, and three assists.

RJ Barrett and Elfrid Payton were the only other Knicks in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively. But they spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench.

“We’re such in a hole, and you want to find a way out. Those guys (second unit) started to make a run, and so that’s basically it,” Thibodeau explained.

A back-to-back three-pointer from Alec Burks brought the Knicks within 10.

But it proved to be their last gallant stand.

Ross, Evan Fournier, and Vucevic put the game away with a 7-0 answer.

The Knicks will have three days to recover.

Thibodeau will face his old team, Minnesota Timberwolves, for the first time since his unceremonious firing in 2019.

The Knicks, though, earned an extra day of rest after their Saturday matinee game against the San Antonio Spurs was postponed after four Spurs tested positive for COVID-19.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Hard work is undefeated: Randle drops 44 in Knicks’ 3rd straight win

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Julius Randle hasn’t been to the NBA All-Star game, nor he’s been part of a winning team.

On the eve of the last day of the NBA All-Star voting for the fans, Randle made another strong case for his inclusion in the mid-season classic.

Randle exploded for a season-high 44 points, one-point shy of his career-high, that pushed the New York Knicks to sixth spot in the Eastern Conference after clipping the Atlanta Hawks, 123-112, Monday night at The Garden.

Randle started strong with 17 first-quarter points, then finished the game stronger.

He hit a career-high seven three-pointers, with the last one beating the shot clock with 3:18 left that gave the Knicks some breathing room, 112-107.

Then RJ Barrett put the game away with his three-pointer off a Randle assist.

Randle added nine rebounds and five assists in a spectacular performance, which Tom Thibodeau referred to as “a reflection of the work [Randle] is putting in.”

“He’s doing it all. But the most important thing is his impact on winning,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully, it will be recognized.”

Randle has been the Knicks’ best player and leader this season, averaging 22.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, all career-highs. Most importantly, he has led the Knicks to win 14 of their first 29 games in a season where they are expected to be one of the lottery teams.

Thibodeau said he wouldn’t call coaches around the league to lobby for Randle.

“His game speaks for itself. I know a lot of guys frown upon that,” Thibodeau said.

He explained that a lot of players are deserving for the seven spots in the All-Star reserves, but when it comes down to voting, and everything seems equal, the coaches would go to the next criteria, which he said is the impact on winning.

“I’m hopeful people will recognize what he’s doing for this team. And he will be recognized. He’s having a terrific season,” Thibodeau said.

Randle said he’s locked in, and making it to the All-Star game is one of his goals when he came to the Knicks via free agency last season.

“I just put the time in. I went home and fixed a couple of things, just repped it out the whole day. Honestly, I just put the time in. Hard work is undefeated,” Randle told Rebecca Haarlow during his postgame interview where his teammates lobbied for his All-Star inclusion.

Randle’s teammates have followed his lead.

Nerlens Noel continued to pick up the slack for the injured Mitchell Robinson. Despite nursing five fouls, Noel didn’t back down and anchored the Knicks’ defense. His back-to-back blocks in the third quarter punctuated a 7-0 Knicks run that enabled them to tie the game at 81-all.

Noel filled up the stats sheet with six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three-shot blocks. He tied Randle for the most +/- among all Knicks players with 17.

Elfrid Payton also was a catalyst in that run as he pumped in six of his 12 points while limiting Trae Young to just one field goal during that stretch.

Meanwhile, Barrett finished with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. It was an excellent bounce-back game for Barrett, who struggled in the Knicks’ last three games.

Rookie Immanuel Quickley contributed 16 points and five assists in 22 minutes off the bench.

Derrick Rose, who drew constant double teams in the fourth quarter, failed to score in double digits but still found ways to make an impact. He wound up with eight points, three boards, three assists, and two blocks.

The Knicks hope to make it four in a row when they visit the injury-ravaged Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

A win would pull them to .500 in their first 30 games and move Randle closer to his dreams.

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Knicks rout Wizards but lose Mitchell Robinson to injury

Mitchell Robinson

The New York Knicks caught a break when the Washington Wizards opted to rest their superstar guard Bradley Beal on their Friday night matchup.

The Knicks, as expected, rolled to a 109-91 win and improved to 12-15 in the season. But they also caught a tough break with center Mitchell Robinson going down with a fractured right hand along the way.

Robinson was on pace to a monster performance when the injury happened in the second quarter. He hurt his right hand when his hand collided with Julius Randle’s elbow while going for a rebound. He had 10 points, 14 rebounds, and four steals in 20 minutes before he left.

Robinson will be re-evaluated upon their return in New York, where the Knicks are set to host the Houston Rockets in Madison Square Garden.

Randle bounces back

Even without Robinson in the second half, the Knicks still dominated the game, with Randle flashing his All-Star form and Derrick Rose pushing the pace.

Randle bounced back from a sub-par game against Miami with his fifth 20-point, 15-rebound game of the season, tying Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic. Only Cleveland’s Andre Drummond had more of those games with seven, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Randle paced the Knicks with 24 points, 18 rebounds, and four assists. His three-pointer with 7:27 left in the third quarter quelled a Washington rally, giving New York a six-point breather.

The Knicks were never seriously threatened the rest of the way and led by as many as 25.

Potent bench

The Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley backcourt tandem again provided the spark off the bench.

The Knicks’ second unit outscored the Wizards’ bench, 49-27.

Rose finished with 14 points and a team-high six assists in 20 minutes. He also added four of the Knicks’ 11 steals. Quickley put up 16 points in 22 minutes. New York’s lottery pick Obi Toppin is also starting to get comfortable with Rose as he came away with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting.

The Knicks’ defense limited the Wizards to just 38.2 percent shooting from the field.

Russell Westbrook led Washington with a near triple-double (23 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists) but committed five turnovers.

Barrett struggles anew

The Knicks bullied the Wizards inside the paint, 58-42, and they crashed the boards, coming away with 24 second-chance points to Wizards’ seven.

Elfrid Payton was also solid with 12 points on 50 percent shooting in only 23 minutes on the floor.

RJ Barrett continued to struggle with his shot, going 3-for-13 for just eight points. It was the second time in the last three games he failed to score in double digits.

Next man up

With Mitchell expected to miss extended time, the Knicks will count on Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson to hold the fort. Noel and Gibson combined for 10 points and seven rebounds.

“It was probably the best first half of the year for [Mitchell]. Obviously, we know how important he is to the team. And anytime someone gets hurt, you certainly feel for him. But we have to be ready for the next one as you know, the games keep on coming,” Thibodeau said after the game.

“I thought Nerlens stepped in and did a good job in the second half. And that’s the great value of having a guy like Taj on the roster. So the next man up! We have to circle the wagons and be ready to go.”

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Knicks suffer another Heat-breaker on Derrick Rose’s debut

Derrick Rose has hit seven game-winners in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime throughout his NBA career.

But on Rose’s first game back as a Knick, Tom Thibodeau chose not to put him in a tight spot.

Instead, Thibodeau went to his youngest player for the last shot.

The 20-year old RJ Barrett missed on a last-second drive as the Miami Heat survived with another gut-wrenching win, 98-96, over the New York Knicks Tuesday night.

“He just got here. So we’re still working our way through things,” Thibodeau said, referring to Rose. “I just felt we needed people who know what we’re doing. I didn’t want to put him in a situation like that.”

With the Knicks’ best closer on the bench, the Heat pounced on the opportunity to hammer out their second straight close win against the Knicks in three days.

Tyler Herro drained a clutch triple while Jimmy Butler hit a split at the line that spoiled the third reunion of his former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach and teammate.

But despite the loss, Rose showed plenty of promise even without the benefit of practice with his new teammates.

He relied on his familiarity with Thibodeau’s schemes and played with his instincts.

For a good stretch, Rose showed flashes of his former elite form that made him the league’s youngest MVP 10 years ago.

The 32-year old Rose, along with rookie sensation Immanuel Quickley, came off the bench with 3:27 left in the first quarter.

Rose quickly made an impact as the Knicks turned a seven-point deficit, 17-24, into a 42-30 lead, bridging the first two quarters.

Rose had 10 first-half points and three assists in under 11 minutes.

But the Heat hit 11 threes in the first half that enabled them to recover and led by two at the break, 57-55.

Elfrid Payton, perhaps feeling the heat with Rose’s arrival, had a strong start with 12 points and three assists in the opening half.

The Knicks would grab another 10-point lead in the second half. But the Heat thrived on the free throw line then made their shots when it mattered to pull off the come-from-behind win.

Miami sank 32 of 39 foul shots while New York only had a total of 16 free throws. Butler and Bam Adebayo combined to shoot 26 of 31 at the stripes for the Heat.

Payton led the Knicks with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Rose finished with 14 points in 20 minutes. He left the game for good with 4:51 left and the tightly-fought match tied at 88-all.

Julius Randle was out-of-sync, bleeding for 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting. His late-game blunder was costly.

After Quickley answered Herro’s triple with a floater to cut the Heat’s lead to one, 97-96, the Knicks had several chances to steal the game.

Reggie Bullock grabbed a Kelly Olynyk miss with 22.6 seconds that set up a bizarre ending for the Knicks.

Instead of milking the clock for the last shot, Randle opted for a tough fadeaway with still 10.2 seconds left.

Butler did an excellent acting job to sell a foul in the mad scramble for the ball. But he could only hit a split off his free throws that gave the Knicks one more shot in the final 6.2 seconds.

Barrett wound up with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a big endgame lesson that Thibodeau hoped would toughen him up.

Rose could have written a perfect ending to his fairy tale return to the Knicks, but Thibodeau held him back.

Not tonight.

Perhaps Thibodeau is reserving those Rose’s clutch shots when the stakes will be higher.

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