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Knicks fans will return to Garden in a much more upbeat mood than the last time they were there

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks dribbles

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks dribbles against Jarred Vanderbilt of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at Madison Square Garden on February 21, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Stier

When the fans last were present at Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks there were regular chants of "Sell the team," and even a win in that last game on March 8, 2020, didn’t exactly endear that Knicks team to the fan base.

With fans in the Garden for the first time this season Julius Randle addressed the crowd before the game and while he attempted to thank them and welcome them, his words were drowned out by chants of, "M-V-P."

The Knicks entered the game against Golden State with a chance to reach a .500 record. And the chants that sometimes had to be drowned out by the game operations staff in recent years would be replaced by the first chance to express support for Julius Randle in a season that might put him in the All-Star Game, to embrace — safely distanced, of course — the efforts of coachTom Thibodeau and what has become the sort of hard-working, defensive-minded group that raises echoes of what the franchise used to be.

"Oh man, it’s going to be amazing just to have fans back, the amount that we’ll have back, just to have their love and support," Randle said Tuesday morning. "It’s definitely going to be something that will be good to be a part of.

"It’s definitely been different without having them on a game-to-game basis when we play. So it’s been tough. But it will be great to have them back. It will be great to have my son and my wife back in the building to watch us live. So it will be a good night for sure."

Home hasn’t always been kind to the Knicks with the fans expressing their dissatisfaction with the struggles on and off the court of a franchise that was beset with dysfunction. More than that, the Garden is still revered as The Mecca by opposing players who look at the opportunity to play in New York and in the historic arena — one the team touts as "The World’s Most Famous Arena," an assertion that would be hard to argue against — as a chance to carve their own place in history.

Consider the 61-point performance by Kobe Bryant, a number equaled by James Harden with the Rockets last season, Michael Jordan’s "double-nickel" game when he scored 55 points, or even the 54 points that the Warriors' Steph Curry scored at the Garden.

RJ Barrett pointed out in preseason that home court can be a hard place to defend in New York because of the opposition's motivation to play well, and the Knicks have managed an 8-6 record at home without the fans in place.

"I’m just happy to have the fans back, honestly," Barrett said Tuesday. "Been missing them. It’s been great playing at home but nothing compares to when you have the fans back there in the Garden, so I’m really excited for that.

"I think it’s a little different in terms of home-court advantage. There are no fans. You’re really just playing basketball. It’s kind of like everything else — up and down. I’ve kind of gotten used to it, but at the end of the day playing basketball, you want fans. You want to hear cheering, you want to hear the boos. All that.’’

It’s not just inside the Garden, but on the streets outside, too, that things have been different. With the pandemic still not solved the bars and restaurants are mostly shuttered. So even in small numbers, this might be a little bit of a return to normalcy.

"It’s a lot. It means a lot," Randle said. "It’s been a rough year since the last time we had fans. I saw something that said it was 350 days or something like that since we had fans, so it’s been tough. It’s been tough on the city.

"We know how important the fans are to the City of New York. We understand what we mean to the city. For them to be a part of what we’re doing and what we’re experiencing as a team, and what we’re building would be amazing. So getting them back here I’m sure they appreciate it. We appreciate it, too."

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