Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on against the Minnesota Timberwolves...

Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 20, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MIAMI — It was odd timing, less than 24 hours before the news would come of Willis Reed's death, that Julius Randle was  thinking about his own place in the franchise.

Randle scored 57 points Monday night, the greatest offensive performance of his career. Reed, the most legendary player in Knicks history, died Tuesday morning, just hours after Randle had joined him in the rare group of Knicks players who have scored at least 50 points in a game.

“When I came here I said I wanted to be a part of the Knicks,” Randle said Wednesday morning at the team's shootaround. “I said it was a place I wanted to be for the rest of my career. I wanted to make a home. It’s crazy. I was pulling up to the Garden before last game and I was on the bus, pulling up to the Garden, I’m just like, this is actually starting to feel like home. Like four years in, this is a place I can really see myself establishing as home. I felt that sense of being comfortable, not comfortable in the sense of not having a chip or an edge. But just felt a sense of being comfortable, just enjoying playing in front of New York, playing in front of the fans.

“Part of it is this is my fourth year. The only other place I spent four years was in L.A. and that kind of seems like a blur at this point in my career. It’s the place I’ve been the longest, almost the longest. It’s the place I’ve had probably the biggest part of my journey, to be honest. I’ve gone through a lot since being here, trying to build towards something. So it’s been fun.”

Randle never met Reed, who because of his failing health was unable to attend last month's 50th anniversary celebration of 1973 championship team, the last team to win a title in franchise history. While Randle said that he hoped Reed was able to watch the game Monday night, he knows the place that Reed holds in team history.

“It’s somebody who has his number up there every day,” Randle said. “You go to practice you see his name, you go to the Garden you see his name. Just an icon in this game, a legend. He meant a lot to the game. So obviously very unfortunate, but us as players who are actively playing and came after him are appreciative of everything he’s done for the game. And me specifically, what he’s done for our organization.

“It just goes to show you how strong the Knicks' brand and culture is, how much the team means to the city,. So that was a big reason why I came here. I wanted to be a part of that, establishing our own history and culture here. We’re building towards something for sure.”

 The Knicks might have the best chance at establishing some sort of history themselves. They entered Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat in fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 42-31, but they have been one of the NBA’s best teams over the last 50 games with a 32-18 record. Josh Hart, who has helped spur the team to a 12-4 record since he arrived, said last month, “We don’t want to make the playoffs. We want to make a run in the playoffs. I think that’s the biggest thing and I think we have the capability to do that.”

Randle is well aware that it is not just the greatness of any individual player but what those Knicks teams — like other legendary teams in New York sports — have accomplished as a group that sets their place in history.

“That’s where my mind goes,” Randle said. “You know, first guy here is about establishing culture, stuff like that. In my mind every day I wake up and go to sleep, how do I build championship habits? So eventually, hopefully, we get there one day.”

With nine games left in the regular season, Randle was asked if the Knicks are approaching a place where they can imagine it. Randle, however, wasn’t getting ahead of himself.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t been on a championship team, so I can’t put expectations on anything. I just try to do the right thing every day, whether it’s taking care of my body, sleep, practicing the right way, habits, all that different type of stuff, and hopefully it lines up with that. And I think we’re all doing that.”

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