Julius Randle credits new mentality for continued success as Knicks flirt with .500

Julius Randle Knicks
Julius Randle and the Knicks have won four of their last five games.
Sarah Stier/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t the same old Knicks team that has constantly disappointed you — or made you laugh, depending on which side of the aisle you’re seated — in recent years past.

Even if they make earning a fanatic’s trust as difficult as possible, as seen on Sunday night when they nearly squandered a 21-point late-third-quarter lead to the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves, only to find a fourth win in five games late.

The Knicks are back to being one game under .500 at 15-16 on the season where they hold the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, largely fueled by the ever-developing stardom of Julius Randle.

The veteran forward continued his All-Star-Game-worthy campaign with 25 points and 14 rebounds, reaching new heights in his seventh NBA season.

Not bad for a player who was written off by both the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans.

Randle has constantly pointed to his physical conditioning that is helping him average a career-best 23.2 points, 11 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game this season. But a shift in mentality has also nurtured his ascension at the age of 26.

He won’t give up much, though.

“I can’t give up all the secret sauce, man,” Randle joked of his new-found mental fortitude. “But I definitely have somebody that I trust that I work with and that’s just as big as the physical grind and toll that you take. The mental has to be hand-in-hand and for me, my mentality has been as sharp as it’s ever been. My confidence is as sharp as it’s ever been.

“I’m able to sit back and evaluate situations better. Control my emotional control better… it’s tied into one thing and allows me to have a better performance.”

His transformation has headlined a new-look Knicks team under head coach Tom Thibodeau, who not only exacted some revenge against his old Timberwolves team on Sunday but provided more examples that this Knicks team is nothing like it was a year ago — or 15 years ago.

“I was really proud of our team because a lot of times if you lose a lead like that and momentum shifts in such a big way, the opposite way, it’s easy to crumble and cave in and let the game go,” Randle said. “We kept fighting and fighting and battling and made stops and plays down the stretch when we had to.”

A win on Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET) would see the Knicks hit the .500 mark in February for the first time in eight years — though this shortened season brings about extenuating circumstances.

But Tuesday night will be all the more special because Madison Square Garden will have fans cheering on the Knicks for the first time since March 8.

It will provide a new experience for rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, who will actually get an opportunity to hear the affection of fans that have grown to love him so quickly this season instead of the fake crowd noise pumped in over the PA system.

“Even with the fake noises, it kind of sounds like the way it sounds when I watch it on TV,’’ Quickley said. “It’s a buzz even without fans. So I’m sure with fans, it’s going to be even more lively. I’m excited to get the fans back in the building.’’

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