Out of a difficult road trip, an avoidable injury to RJ Barrett and Leon Rose’s silent trade deadline emerged one important and positive development for the Knicks:
The reinvigoration of Julius Randle.
It was only five games that ended with Saturday afternoon’s fourth-quarter meltdown against the Trail Blazers in Portland, but context matters. Randle had been spiraling into uncontrollable disaster before the West Coast swing, leaving many to wonder whether the Knicks might dump his contract with the max extension kicking in next season.
He was slumping in all categories: game, attitude, body language, leadership. There were incidences with the fans, the media and even a video coordinator’s laptop.
But the effort from last season returned during the road trip, which included Thursday night’s shocking victory over the Warriors.
And it continued in Portland, at least for three quarters. He scored 24 points through 36 minutes as the Knicks (25-32) built a 23-point lead before falling apart in the fourth for a brutal 112-103 loss to end the trip.
In the four games prior to Saturday, Randle averaged 29.5 points, 12 rebounds and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 48.3%. On Saturday, he finished with a team-high 28 points on 8-of-20 shooting, with 16 rebounds (tying a season high) and six assists.
Randle said he finally picked up his pace, which was something discussed all season but hadn’t been implemented.
“I just had to adjust to the way the game was being played. And adjust to how we were trying to play,” Randle said before the game. “We were trying to play up-tempo all year. And haven’t been able to figure it out. And for me, it was a conscious effort, just watching the game, watching other teams play. And making the adjustment myself.”
Evan Fournier, who is also enjoying his best stretch of the season (seven games before Saturday, averages of 21 points and 49.5% shooting), said Randle has also altered his strategy on screens. He said Randle is rolling to the basket when he sets a screen and the defender switches, boosting their two-man game that had sputtered through most of the season.
“That open up the whole court for him to either shoot or drive and kick and make a play,” Fournier said. “We always see that play with Draymond and Steph, when Steph throws it up to Draymond. With our two-man game, we try to add weapons. That’s something he’s starting to do really well. And that adds offense, man. So it’s good for us.
“We always try to make things work, things work in the two-man game. Julius always likes to go left, obviously. And I’m always in the left corner. So we have to find ways to create offense to get an easy bucket.”
Still, there’s also the negative context. The Knicks were 1-4 on the road trip and have lost 11 of their last 14.
But it feels like Randle found something again.
Barrett still out
Barrett missed his second straight game after an unnecessary garbage time injury.
The 21-year-old was spotted by reporters in a walking boot after suffering a sprained ankle in the final seconds of Tuesday night’s blowout defeat to the Nuggets. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau downplayed the injury, calling it day-to-day, and indicated the walking boot was more procedural than concerning.
“Usually it’s pretty standard to have the boot on just to get the swelling out,” he said.
Thibodeau had left in Barrett in the final minute while trailing by 15 to the Nuggets, continuing the coach’s trend of playing his starters in garbage time with the hope of a miracle recovery. In this instance, even the miracle time had passed.
Barrett stepped on the foot of Denver guard Davon Reed with about 30 seconds left. He then hobbled off the court and missed his first game due to injury in over two years.
For Thursday’s win over the Warriors, Barrett was initially listed as doubtful. But he was ruled out from the first injury report for Saturday’s game in Portland.
The situation clears a spot for Cam Reddish, who was out of the rotation but logged a productive 19 minutes in Thursday’s victory over the Warriors. Reddish was acquired for a first-round pick last month and Thibodeau has said he’ll have to earn minutes, rather than just being handed an opportunity.
“Cam has been terrific,” Thibodeau said. “We knew when we made the trade there was a logjam but his attitude has been terrific and that’s what I go by. And he’s going to play based on performance.”
Before sitting out Thursday’s victory over the Warriors, Barrett hadn’t missed a game due to injury in over
In the two games leading up to the injury, Barrett logged 43 minutes in Utah and 50 minutes in LA He’s averaging 18 points and 5.7 rebounds this season.