Knicks guard Evan Fournier shoots a technical foul shot against...

Knicks guard Evan Fournier shoots a technical foul shot against the Sacramento Kings in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is no line of questioning that Tom Thibodeau is less likely to answer than about staring down a harsh stretch of the upcoming schedule for the Knicks. Instead, he will say that the only game that matters is the one in front of the team.

So Thibodeau would not look back at the three-game losing streak the Knicks brought into Madison Square Garden on Monday night or at the next game against a streaking Memphis Grizzlies squad before heading out on an imposing five-game West Coast trip — which just happens to overlap the NBA’s trade deadline.

Instead, he focused on the task at hand, taking on the shorthanded Kings. The Knicks were up to the task, building a 29-point lead with 2:50 left on the way to a 116-96 win.

It was the seventh straight loss for the Kings (18-34). The Knicks (24-27) had lost six of their last seven.

"The thing is, you go on the road, it’s hard to win on the road," Thibodeau said. "You look back and you want to learn from every situation . . . You want to learn, improve, come back, get ready, keep fighting. Every day, fight, think about how you can help the group. That’s all we want everyone to focus in on."

Playing without star guard De’Aaron Fox — the subject of many trade rumors — the Kings never were in the game, and the crowd wound up chanting for Cam Reddish to get on the court. Reddish reported in with 5:07 left and the Knicks up by 22 and scored four points.

With the Knicks struggling this season, league sources have indicated that they believe there are no untouchable pieces on the team. If Knicks fans missed out on a chance to watch Fox, one of their own pieces who also has been the subject of trade talk put on quite a display early in the game.

Evan Fournier was on fire from the opening tip, hitting his first six shots from the floor, including four from beyond the three-point arc, and scoring 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter.

Alec Burks scored 21 points off the bench, shooting 4-for-6 from three-point range, and Julius Randle had 17 points and nine rebounds. Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin each added 14 points off the bench and Mitchell Robinson had nine points and 13 rebounds. Tyrese Haliburton led Sacramento with 21 points and eight assists.

"I thought it was a lot of different things," Thibodeau said. "The turnovers were still a bit too high for me, but there were so many good things about the way we played. Getting the ball up the floor quickly, and then even when we were in the halfcourt, playing with more pace there, I think that helped us. It’s more about how can we help each other, not just helping yourself, but how can we help the group. When everyone locks into helping the group, we’re going to play better."

It was a change from the recent mood at the Garden, when Randle absorbed the ire of the fans. If the response awaiting him at the Garden from the stands was in question as he took the floor Monday night, he had at least one fan in place.

Alvin Gentry, who took over as Kings coach this season when Luke Walton was dismissed, coached Randle in his last stop with the Pelicans before the forward departed for the Knicks as a free agent. Rumors have begun to sift through the league that Randle is not untouchable, but Gentry was effusive in his praise for his former player.

"I think he’s a better player," Gentry said in comparing Randle to the player he was in New Orleans. "And he was a very good player for us. He was outstanding for us, really. I think he’s slowed himself down a little bit. Now I know he’s struggling a bit right now, but it’s never because of effort or anything.

"He hasn’t shot the ball as well," he said. "But the way he attacks the basket and his ability to handle the ball in the open court and create plays are all things he was starting to do when he was in New Orleans, and I think he’s much, much better at it right now. A good guy to coach because he loves the competition and doesn’t mind the contact."


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