The New York Knicks, now winners in 11 of their last 12, look bound for a competitive first-round series in the Eastern Conference playoffs—at a minimum.
And it’s all largely thanks to Julius Randle, who in year six has made the jump from good to great.
He earned his first All-Star appearance this year, his second with the Knicks.
And he has as strong a case as anyone for a roster spot on one of the league’s three All-NBA teams.
Factor in his clubhouse lead for the Most Improved Player award, and it’s hard to find someone having a better year.
The only question now is how far he can take New York, who’s prepped for their first playoff appearance since 2013.
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“MVP!” Chants on the Road
Discourse is continuing to open up around both New York Knicks fans and NBA fans alike about Julius Randle’s deserved place in the MVP discussion.
It certainly helps anyone’s argument that he received chants for the award while at the free-throw line during the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Houston Rockets.
#Knicks fans here in Houston are giving Julius Randle MVP chants.
— Jake Asman (@JakeAsman) May 3, 2021
Knicks fans or not, that’s impressive. And it’s deserved too, at least for Sunday’s game.
Randle finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 30 minutes of play. His efforts in the third quarter fueled what inevitably became a 25-point win for New York—their 11th in 12 games.
The 26-year old forward is from Texas originally, born in Dallas. He’s admitted to always wanting to get up for games in his home state and hometown, as he did in the Knicks’ latest win.
But that’s not all that fueled his latest MVP-caliber performance.
Randle told Marc Berman of the New York Post after the game that there was some trash talk early on by way of a few Houston Rockets players, that poked his competitive side:
I always like playing in Houston as well [as Dallas]. [But] a couple of guys on their team were talking stuff. I love that competition. [And it’s] the first game of the road trip and had to get off on the right start.
The ‘right start’ is a nice way to put ‘must-win,’ which is exactly what Sunday’s game was for New York.
Given the nature of their six-game road trip, walking out of the Toyota Center without a win was unacceptable.
After Tuesday night’s game with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Knicks will play three of the top-four teams in the Western Conference over a five-day span: Denver, Phoenix, and the LA Clippers.
Another Big Man Down
As the New York Knicks continue their climb in the Eastern Conference, it may be hard to separate the euphoric feeling of the franchise’s comeback from the seriousness of the upcoming playoffs.
Take Sunday night for example.
Julius Randle had a big evening, RJ Barrett was consistent, and Derrick Rose had a season-high four threes.
But the team’s starting center went down in the third quarter after bumping knees with Rockets’ big Christian Wood.
Nerlens Noel was ruled out for the remainder of the game, and his status moving forward is up in the air. Head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have an update on the big man following Sunday’s win.
That’s the kind of absence that could help to derail what has been a month-long ascent into the upper tier of the East. The 27-year old big is averaging 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, he’s the anchor of this defense.
Taj Gibson is the likely next man up if Noel can’t suit up on Tuesday. But if his absence stretches longer than just the one game, or even two, the Knicks’ defense could take a huge hit.
Updated Knicks Playoff Odds
After their win over the Houston Rockets, the New York Knicks are 36-28.
That’s good for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, three games back of the third-seed Milwaukee Bucks.
According to Five Thirty Eight’s forecast, their chances at making the playoffs have climbed to 89 percent.
But the website is still giving the team a less than one percent shot at making and/or winning the 2021 NBA Finals.
That number could increase if they retain homecourt going into the postseason.
New York’s currently got a game lead over the fifth-seed Atlanta Hawks and a two-game lead over both the sixth-seed Boston Celtics and the seventh-seed Miami Heat.
So it seems a playoff appearance is a near-lock for the Knicks, who’ve missed the cut in seven consecutive seasons.
However, what seed they end up entering in remains up in the air.
Tankathon.com has New York’s remaining schedule as the third-toughest in the entire NBA. Eight games to go.