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Randle remains relentless as Knicks hit rarified winning air in March

Julius Randle Knicks
Julius Randle and the Knicks have a winning record in March for the first time in eight years.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

If someone owns the receipts of people bashing the New York Knicks’ hire of head coach Tom Thibodeau, you can probably start breaking them out.

The Knicks picked up their 18th win of the season on Sunday night against the Detroit Pistons, on the last day of February. This very same roster that featured a majority of this very same core — minus a dazzling rookie point guard in Immanuel Quickley and an overhauled coaching staff instituted by team president Leon Rose — also on its 18th game of the season on the last day of February last year.

Granted, a COVID-delayed 2020-21 season saw the Knicks hit that mark in their 35th game of the season — just before the halfway mark of this 72-game season — while last year’s campaign started as usual in October, meaning that year’s Knicks didn’t win their 18th game until Game No. 60.

This is what good coaching and a nurturing system can do for a franchise that has been stuck in the dark for the better part of the last two decades.

Now, for the first time in eight years, the Knicks are headed into March with a record over .500 at 18-17 as they prepare for a clash with the San Antonio Spurs in Texas on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET).

They own the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference to themselves as their success is creating waves around the NBA and revitalizing a fan base that had been beaten down into dormancy.

But the Knicks’ success isn’t a surprise within their ranks.

“Honestly, in our locker room, it’s expected,” All-Star forward Julius Randle said. “I’ve said it all year, I feel like every time we go out, we have a chance to win the game… So I’m not really surprised at where we’re at as a team.

“We have a certain level of focus on a night-to-night basis that gives us a shot every night.”

Randle has obviously played a massive part in New York’s success as he was named to his first-ever All-Star Game this season, averaging career-bests with 23.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game.

He was at it again in Detroit, dropping 25 points with eight rebounds and six assists in the 109-90 triumph in which he played in over 37 minutes just one night after playing in 41 in the Knicks’ win over the Indiana Pacers.

The 26-year-old hasn’t missed a game this season and leads the NBA in minutes played (1,285).

“As far as playing every game, I take pride in that,” Randle said. “Being durable and being available for my team every night, to go out and give an all-out effort.”

His relentless training off the court has only helped his ascension into stardom in the NBA and now, it’s up to him and his teammates to continue cultivating the right kind of winning environment, per Thibodeau.

“It takes a lot. When you’re the focus of an opponent’s game plan in terms of how they’re going to defend, there’s a big responsibility that goes along with that,” Thibodeau said of teams keying in on Randle. “His teammates have to help him and he has to get used to playing at that level. When the double-teams come, he has that responsibility to make the right play, read the game, play unselfishly, hit the open man, and understand as the game goes on, the intensity rises and decisions have to be made quicker.

“Our spacing has to be strong so he has to know where his outlets are and we have to understand that we have to play at that level to win. So you have to practice at that level so when the game comes, you’re used to playing at that level.”

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