MIAMI — Bernard King has been in attendance at “quite a few” Knicks games at Madison Square Garden this season, by his estimation, but he wasn’t there Monday night when Julius Randle nearly joined him in an exclusive club in team history.
Randle, with 57 points in a loss to the Timberwolves, fell just short of joining King and franchise record-holder Carmelo Anthony in scoring at least 60 points in one game for the Knicks.
The 66-year-old King joked that he understands “better than anyone” why Randle had difficulty being elated about his historic night.
Nearly 40 years after he netted 60 points on Christmas Day in 1984 against the Nets, King didn’t hesitate to offer the most enduring memory of his feat.
“That we lost,” King told Sports+ on Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Obviously, all Julius wants to do is win. I considered myself a winner, and I just wanted to win that ballgame. Not because I had a great number of points, but it’s all about winning. I would have taken less points to win the game.
“However, I did have a dynamic day, it was an afternoon game on Christmas Day. And that’s something that’s part of the lore of Knicks history and part of my career and what I was able to accomplish. So you can’t just discredit 60 points, or 57 points, because it’s a phenomenal performance, and you don’t see players having that type of game all the time, as Melo did when he scored 62.”
King, whose team record was broken by Anthony in 2014 in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, offered nothing but praise for Randle, well beyond Monday’s historic performance.
“Julius has been on fire. He had a great night obviously, scoring 57, but since the All-Star Game he’s taken his play to another level,” King said. “I think, in part, playing in the All-Star Game gives you a tremendous amount of confidence going into the second half of the season.
“He definitely has that, he’s playing in great rhythm, he’s rebounding well and distributing the ball well. He’s also been just a tremendous, dynamic scorer who can beat you from anywhere on the court. He can score inside or outside, and if you look at that a little more closely, a lot of his game is similar to LeBron James to the extent of the 3-point shot, the ability to handle the ball in the open floor, and the other aspect is overpowering defenses physically.”
Randle entered Wednesday night’s game averaging 29.5 points and 3.9 made 3-pointers over 13 appearances since the break. He was limited to just 15 points (1-for-5 from 3-point range) with nine assists in the playoff-race-tightening loss in Miami.
“He’s extended his jump shot to 3-point range, and that opens up opportunities for him to put the ball on the floor,” said King, who led the NBA in scoring in 1984-85 with 32.9 points per game before suffering a serious knee injury and missing the entire next season. “So that dimension changes the defense that he’s going to face, and it changes the dynamics of what he’s able to do offensively for the team.
“If a defender wants to play up on him, he has the ability to go around him or overpower that defender. If the defender lays off, he has the ability to knock down the 3-point shot. He’s become a far more multi-dimensional offensive player with his accuracy with the 3-point shot.”
King added that he wasn’t upset when Anthony — a fellow Brooklyn native — eclipsed the franchise mark he held for nearly 30 years.
“I’m happy that it was Melo, considering our background together,” King said. “He used to watch my games, and I got to know him quite well. I was very happy it was Carmelo Anthony.
“I remember I was traveling at the time, and I landed in Houston and had all these messages on my voicemail system asking if I saw the game. I didn’t, because I was in flight, but Melo was such a great player and scorer.
“But we better watch out: Randle may break it one day. Time is on his side,” added King, who now resides in Atlanta. “If you can score 57, you’re capable of scoring 63 or 65. With a player like Randle, all he has to do is get on a hot streak, like the other night.”
Asked if he can envision himself reaching 60 in a game or surpassing Anthony’s record, Randle replied, “God willing, hopefully. Those are legends in this game, and pioneers, who specifically for this organization laid the groundwork and led the way for players like myself to come behind them and be able to play the game I love and be able to put on that Knicks jersey with pride. You know, hopefully, but I just want to win.”
Randle also had said Monday night that it was difficult to beam about his historic night because the Knicks played terribly defensively and lost the game 140-134.
“It was special, man, it was special,” Randle said. “I’m still bummed we lost, to be honest. But my wife [Kendra], she does a good job of keeping me balanced. She was just like, ‘I know you’re upset that you [lost], but just take some time to be proud of yourself and your journey and all that different type of stuff.’ So it kind of makes me reflect.”
King was one of the franchise greats in attendance when the Knicks honored their 1972-73 championship team last month. He regrets not getting one final meeting with former captain and fellow basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed, who was absent that day and who died Tuesday at 80.
“I was devastated to hear that news,” King said. “I loved the man. I had an opportunity to get to know him over many years, he was just a special man.
“I loved watching him play during those championship years as a young person growing up in Brooklyn, and he had such leadership qualities beyond being a great basketball player. As a human being, he was beloved. He always had a smile on his face.
“My last year in the league [in 1992-93], in fact, he was my GM with the Nets. He was always a great person and a great talent. My thoughts are with [his wife] Gale and his family and my condolences go out to them and all of Knick nation. Everyone is so saddened by it.
“I was there for the championship team when it was honored just a few weeks ago, and it was great to see all of those players. … The memories that they provided for me and for all of us with their winning ways was simply beautiful. They were the standard, and Willis was the leader of those teams.”
The Knicks are less secure in their playoff seeding after Wednesday’s loss to the Heat, dropping to two games ahead of the play-in cutoff while maintaining their hold on the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference.
With eight games to play in the regular season — continuing Thursday night in Orlando — here are a few things to watch for concerning Tom Thibodeau’s team before the playoffs.
It still would take a big swing in the standings for the Knicks not to face Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers in the opening round, but they have far less margin for error now with their cushion on the No. 6 Nets and the No. 7 Heat down to two games.
The Knicks are slated to face the Heat again next Wednesday at the Garden with a chance to take the season-series tiebreaker after going 2-1 in the first three head-to-head meetings.
The Knicks also will make one more visit to Cleveland in the regular season on March 31. Their other remaining games are against the Rockets, Wizards and Pacers at home, as well as the Pelicans and Pacers on the road.
The Knicks already have clinched their first winning record on the road since 2012-13 — and just their second in 26 years — with a 22-15 mark away from Madison Square Garden this season following Wednesday’s loss at Miami-Dade Arena (whoops, FTX).
Mike Woodson’s 54-win squad from a decade ago finished 23-18 on the road, meaning the Knicks still have a chance to post their best record away from MSG since they went 26-15 in 1996-97.
After netting 26 points in 36 minutes against the Heat, RJ Barrett is now averaging 19.9 points through 67 appearances this season. He needs to average slightly more than 21 points over the final eight contests to join Randle and Jalen Brunson to give the Knicks their first trio of 20-point scorers in one season in their history.
The closest they’ve ever come to achieving that feat was when Bill Cartwright (21.7 ppg), Ray Williams (20.9) and Toby Knight (19.1) nearly did it in 1979-80.
Rest for the weary?
Randle and Thibodeau have taken great pride in the All-Star forward’s availability for every game amid the load-management craze around the league.
Randle played in his 74th straight game this season Wednesday night, one of only five players in the NBA to start each of his team’s games — along with Mikal Bridges (Suns/Nets), Harrison Barnes (Kings), Buddy Hield (Pacers) and Nikola Vucevic (Bulls).
Randle admitted he was “pretty tired” and slept nine hours after the Knicks arrived Tuesday in Miami, but he sounds as if he’s not looking for any time off ahead of the playoffs.
“Nine hours, yeah, so it goes to those habits, man. I’ve told you all year, I’ve put a lot into my body, making sure that I’m prepared and by the grace of God, I’ve been able to be out there,” he said.
And the winner is…
Randle also was asked Wednesday if he believes his durability and league-leading minutes total will help him with voters when All-NBA teams are announced.
“I’ve tried not to think about it,” he said. “Honestly, it means a lot to me, just because I know what I’ve put my body through as far as getting prepared for a season. And to be able to come out and compete at a high level every night, not just physically, but mentally, it means a lot to me.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum almost certainly will be the two forwards on the first team, especially with Kevin Durant and LeBron James missing significant time due to injuries. Randle, who made second-team All-NBA in 2021, should vie for a spot on the second and third teams with Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Lauri Markkanen (Jazz), Jimmy Butler (Heat), Pascal Siakam (Raptors) and others.
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