Knicks forward Julius Randle gestures after scoring a three-point basket...

Knicks forward Julius Randle gestures after scoring a three-point basket against the Detroit Pistons during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — After a season spent mostly playing in empty arenas, Julius Randle was asked what he expects Wednesday night at the Garden when the Knicks not only open their regular season but mark the official debut of hometown hero Kemba Walker against his former team, the Boston Celtics.

"Chaos. Definitely expecting chaos," Randle said. "The city is excited to get basketball back. We’re excited. It’ll be fun."

For the Knicks, it is a far cry from the sort of chaos that accompanied the franchise for most of the last two decades. They righted the ship last season with Randle leading on the court and Tom Thibodeau stabilizing the team from the sideline. Now, coming off a playoff appearance and an undefeated preseason, and with the addition of Walker and Evan Fournier, the chaos the Knicks are looking forward to will come in the form of a frenzied crowd and raised expectations.

But to a man they shrug off the 41 wins and No. 4 seed from last season, dismissing it as immaterial to what comes next. And it may be. That team exceeded the predictions for them by outworking opponents and navigating the COVID-19 problems that shut down so many teams. This team, with the addition of the newcomers, can be better — but only if those pieces fit in with the style and effort of the previous group.

"Great," Thibodeau said of the fit before noting how hard the Knicks are working in practice. "The other night, Kemba’s in there shooting, Julius comes back every night, RJ [Barrett] comes back every night. We have a bunch of guys in there. Then we have other guys who come early, stay late after practice.

"Everyone is putting extra work in. And I think that’s an important aspect of becoming a team — making the commitment for each other, to work hard for each other. Not only for themselves but more importantly for the team. And when you get a group doing that, that’s how you build your teamwork, when everyone is putting everything they have into each and every day. Roles will be different, but the work part is equal for everyone."

Walker and Fournier didn’t quite live up to their billing in the preseason, a natural period of acclimating to the new group. But beginning Wednesday, the venue, the opponent and the audience all will put the learning curve on a steep angle.

"I’m ready," Walker said. "We’re all ready. As NBA players, we all look forward to opening night. Everybody’s been working so hard to get to this point. Guys come into a new year. Some guys coming off tough seasons. Some want to show what they worked on in the summer. Other guys want to continue to build. There might be different reasons a lot of us have going into these seasons, so it’s a very exciting time. I’m looking forward to it.

"We just got here, you know? Guys just don’t develop chemistry overnight. It takes time. It takes reps. It takes games, communication, togetherness. All of that stuff comes into play. For me and Ev, we’re two of the new guys. Trying to fit in, trying to do what we can to help this team win. So yeah, it’s going to take time. Some nights are going to be better than others. Some nights are going to be good up until we get that chemistry going."

Notes & quotes: Thibodeau said Nerlens Noel remains doubtful with knee soreness. He would not commit to whether Mitchell Robinson or Taj Gibson will start at center.


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