In what remains an ongoing search to recapture the magic that yielded a playoff berth last season, the New York Knicks are sharpening their focus on All-Star forward Julius Randle.
Randle, who scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half of the Knicks’ 105-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, will lead New York into a road game against the Houston Rockets on Thursday.
The Knicks have dropped seven of eight games to fall into 12th place in the Eastern Conference, and they have yet to uncover any answers to their prolonged struggles.
Getting Randle back on track seems a solid place to start.
“When he’s aggressive like that, it makes us better,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of Randle and his second-half outburst. “I love to see when he’s attacking the rim. It puts a lot of pressure on people and it opens things up for us.”
Randle is on the same page as Thibodeau. And with the Knicks set to play six of their next nine games on the road, investing thought into unlocking Randle seems the first step toward righting what has been wrong so far.
For Randle, toeing the line between attacking and facilitating remains a delicate balance.
“When I’m myself, I naturally do those things,” he said. “When I’m hesitating and overthinking, when I’ve got an open shot and I don’t shoot it, I’m trying to play the right way and get other people going, it kind of takes me out of rhythm. It takes away from my aggressiveness.
“It’s crazy because that’s when I start to get the turnovers. But when I’m naturally aggressive and playing with force, everything kind of falls into place and I get into a rhythm.”
Randle has seen his scoring, rebounding and assist totals decline from last season, when he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
As the centerpiece for what the Knicks strive for offensively, Randle understands the significance of his role. With Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin sidelined by health and safety protocols, the Knicks aren’t whole. But even when they have been, the results haven’t been up to snuff.
“It’s a struggle,” Randle said. “We’re down a couple of guys and not playing great basketball. It’s tough, but this is what we all signed up for.
“We’re going to get it done. We’re going to figure it out, we’ve just got to take it a game at a time and get our confidence and our juice going.”
The Rockets might be lacking confidence now, too. Since winning seven consecutive games, Houston has dropped three of four during a grueling stretch of the schedule.
The Rockets lost both ends of a back-to-back last weekend against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Memphis Grizzlies before beating the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. The matchup with the Knicks will be the Rockets’ second back-to-back inside of a week, as Houston took a 124-89 road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
The Rockets were without their top four scorers against the Cavaliers and looked the part, with Christian Wood (knee), Eric Gordon (groin), Jalen Green (hamstring) and Kevin Porter Jr. (thigh) all sidelined. In addition, Houston coach Stephen Silas left the bench in the first quarter following a bout of dehydration, and while he did not return, he appears set to return Thursday.
“He seems to be doing better,” Rockets forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “Well just go from there.”
Rookie Alperen Sengun came off the bench to lead Houston with a career-high 19 points plus 11 rebounds and five assists at Cleveland. Another rookie reserve, Josh Christopher, scored 17 points.
–Field Level Media