Julius Randle, Knicks feeling frustration without Jalen Brunson
LOS ANGELES — For some players, returning to face the team that drafted them brings back fond memories. For Julius Randle, Los Angeles has seemed to be something else.
Drafted by the Lakers with the No. 7 overall pick in 2014, he saw his rookie season come to an end 14 minutes into the opener when he suffered a broken leg. After four seasons, he was cut loose to make room for the Lakers to sign LeBron James, and Randle signed with New Orleans.
His returns have been strange. While in the arena three years ago, he found out his grandmother had passed away, and then there are the feelings raised by reminders of his early mentor, Kobe Bryant.
So maybe it was just another part of his odd history here that Randle found himself being bear-hugged by Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and shouting at teammates and team security personnel Saturday as he melted down in anger and frustration as the Knicks lost to the Clippers.
With another night in Los Angeles on Sunday — the Knicks played the Lakers as part of a back-to-back set in the city — Randle had a chance to change the narrative. But his recent struggles might be related more to current frustrations than any bit of geographical history.
The loss to the Clippers was the third straight for the Knicks as they try to find a way through the absence of point guard Jalen Brunson, who again was ruled out Sunday. While the Knicks maintain that nothing should change, the absence of Brunson has placed pressure on Randle to carry the offense in ways very different from how he has played during an All-Star season.
Randle shot 5-for-24 against the Clippers, making him 18-for-63 in his last three games — games in which the Knicks were without Brunson for all but one half.
“You’re going to have the ebbs and flows of the season,’’ Thibodeau said. “There’s going to be ups and downs and you just work your way through it and oftentimes, the way you get out of it — and when I say ‘you,’ I mean ‘we’ — is we have to do it together. We got to get easy baskets for each other and we got to help create rhythm for each other. And so that all goes hand- in-hand. If we’re getting stops, we can get out into the open floor and get some easy buckets and then the game is different.”
“He’s a great player for us,” RJ Barrett said of Brunson. “He’s our floor general. Definitely miss having him on the floor, but while he’s out, we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure out how to get these wins. Every game is intense now from start to finish. We’ve got to figure it out somehow, try to get easy ones.”
Randle exited quickly Saturday after discussing his technical foul and on-court actions but before being asked about his shooting difficulties without Brunson.
Thibodeau didn’t seem concerned and dismissed any thought that fatigue had anything to do with it. Randle has played every game this season, leads the NBA in total minutes played and participated in All-Star Weekend last month rather than take a breather.
“The thing is, you can give him a day off when you’re not playing, too,” Thibodeau said. “And so there’s a lot of different ways to give him a day off. The thing about Julius is he works very hard so he can handle these minutes and play these games. It’s a credit to him. I think he wants to play the games. And we have a number of guys that are like that, and I think that’s important.
“So you try to build the right habits. You have to be mentally tough to get through things. Sometimes it’s not easy. Sometimes things aren’t going your way. And then how do you make them go your way? So I think the more you invest in something, the harder it is to surrender and the more you fight and you get through things. I think being mentally tough through adversity is probably the most important thing there is.”