Knicks Find Silver Lining in Julius Randle’s Injury

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Getty The Knicks bench picks up Julius Randle's slack.

At around this time last season, the Madison Square Garden was filled with a pale of gloom as loud boos rained on New York Knicks forward Julius Randle during one of the darkest moments of his career.

In a twist of fate on Wednesday night, M-V-P chants filled the Garden to encourage Randle, whose rebirth during his second All-Star season was cut short by a wrong twist of his left ankle.

Randle, who has played all 77 games for the Knicks this season, stayed on the floor to split his free throws off Heat center Bam Adebayo’s foul and immediately went to the locker room afterward.

Less than 24 hours since he sustained a sprained left ankle, the team announced he would be re-evaluated in two weeks. The devastating news leaves the possibility of the Knicks going into the first round without their two-time All-Star forward.

According to sports injury analyst Dr. Evan Jeffries, the recovery timetable for such type of injury is 2 to 6 weeks.

The first round of the playoffs begins in 16 days.

Closing Lineup

Despite losing Randle, the Knicks remained upbeat after an encouraging showing in the second half. Even Randle was in good spirits, according to Immanuel Quickley, who followed up his career-high 40-point performance with 24 this time against the Heat.

Quickley played the entire fourth quarter, and New York coach Tom Thibodeau may have stumbled upon his potential death lineup for the playoffs.

Thibodeau rolled an intriguing lineup in the fourth quarter that outscored the Heat 25-16.

The closing five of Quickley, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein held the Heat to a putrid 31.6% shooting. Their active hands forced the Heat to three turnovers while committing not a single on the other end.

All five are capable of hitting the outside shot and could make plays, including Hartenstein, whose outlet passes on transition and backdoor reads from the high post have been stellar. Quickley and Grimes are the Knicks’ top two perimeter defenders. Hart’s energy on both ends of the floor has provided a spark since he joined the team at the trade deadline. While Barrett has gone hot and cold, he’s found a rhythm when flanked by their best defenders.

“When you have a guy who’s averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds and five assists and doing the things that he’s doing, you’re not replacing him with an individual player,” Thibodeau said during his postgame interview. “But what we can do is we can play great defense and rebound the ball great. We can take care of the ball. And we know if we do those three things, we will be in a position to win. So we have to make up for him collectively.”

That’s precisely what his closing lineup did against a formidable Heat team.

According to Cleaning The Glass, that lineup of Quickley, Grimes, Barrett, Hart and Hartenstein boasts a plus-51.6 net rating and a staggering 131.6 points per 100 possessions. While it could not even be considered a small sample size, that offensive burst is off the charts compared to the Sacramento Kings, owner of this season’s best offense with 118.8 points per 100 possessions.

Potential 1st Round Opponent

Randle will miss his first game of the season when the Knicks visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday in a preview of a potential first-round series matchup.

The Knicks need two more wins in their last five games to officially punch a playoff ticket. They are 3.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the fifth seed and four games clear of the play-in tournament.

The Knicks have won their last two meetings, smothering the Cavaliers’ high-octane offense led by last summer’s trade target and Westchester native Donovan Mitchell.

It will be interesting to see if Thibodeau will give his potential ‘death lineup’ an extended look against the Cavaliers, who have twin towers in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.



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