Julius Randle became an All-Star last week. He became a winner Sunday in Detroit.
After six previous seasons of being on losing teams, Randle has led the Knicks to a winning record, achieved Sunday with a 109-90 win over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.
The Knicks moved to 18-17 and are fourth in the pooled Eastern Conference. It’s the last they have passed .500 in a season since the 54-win campaign of 2012-13.
The Knicks held an 11-point lead at halftime and Randle turned off the lights on the Pistons with a brilliant 12-point third quarter. Randle finished with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals as his winning season roared into one night after dominating Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis.
“I think that’s the nature of the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the schedule is in your favor, sometimes against it. The challenge is to be prepared when necessary. So back to back, trip, you’re late, the ball goes up, let’s get ready to roll. Just find a way to do it. That’s what we did. “
And Randle, best of all, hasn’t missed a game, playing big minutes at 35.
The Knicks have two games left before the All-Star break: in San Antonio on Tuesday and hosting the Pistons in a rematch Thursday. It’s safe to say that they have a great chance to enter their week-long vacation with a winning record.
Randle had timely help from RJ Barrett, who posted his second straight power game with 20 points (7 of 11). Last season, Randle and Barrett had little chemistry. All of that has changed in this remarkable first season with coach Tom Thibodeau.
Randle has already made more triples than in all of last season, going 3-for-5 on Sunday. He’s now 66 on the season after 35 games. Randle registered just 64 games last season in a 64-game campaign shortened by the pandemic.
The Knicks have moved to 6-2 since starting center Mitchell Robinson broke his hand in Washington.
Barrett scored 12 points in the first half. He made two 3s and dived hard for all types of runners.
After scoring 24 points Saturday against Indiana, Barrett had a solid 5-of-7 from the field at half as the Knicks took a 48-37 lead at halftime.
The Knicks had that advantage despite shooting just 36.7 percent from the field. It was an ugly first half, personified by the brave defense of center Nerlens Noel.
Noel, the last Knicks center back standing, was a beast on the defensive line. He scored three blocks, including a spectacular stop at the rim on a drive by lottery rookie Saddiq Bey.
Noel finished the night with eight points, 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
The Knicks are devastated in the center. Robinson will be out until the end of March possibly with a broken hand and backup Taj Gibson could lose time with a sprained ankle suffered on Saturday. He has forced Noel to take on an important role and he is doing it with grace and determination. He’s fifth in the NBA in blocks per game at nearly 2.0.
Former Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr., starting with Detroit, drilled an early triple. He was 1-for-6 at the half, when the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent, but they also had a good block. Smith finished with seven points and four assists.