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Knicks making three-pointers a big part of the offense

Knicks guard Derrick Rose shoots for a three-point

Knicks guard Derrick Rose shoots for a three-point basket against the Celtics during the second half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks were clear in their goal to increase the number of three-point attempts this season. But even their projections didn’t put the number anywhere near what the team has put up through the first two games.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has been reluctant to publicize the number but said Sunday that the goal was 37 to 40 attempts per game. In the opening game the Knicks attempted 45 from beyond the arc and followed that Friday in Orlando by attempting a franchise-record 54 threes and converting a record 24.

Entering Sunday night’s rematch with the Orlando Magic, the Knicks were attempting a league-high 49.5 three-point shots, four more than the next closest team (Boston). While it is only two games, the Knicks would shatter the all-time record by any team for attempts per game, currently held by the 2018-19 Houston Rockets who hoisted 45.38 treys.

"We felt we had closed the gap last year in terms of makes," Thibodeau said. "We added 2 ½ makes from the previous season. We felt like — we were at 30 [attempts] last year. The league average was 35. We wanted to be above that. Our goal was 37-to-40 a game.

"But we wanted them to be the right ones. We don’t want them jacking up any old three where the guys aren’t ready to offensive rebound or get back. Understanding what a good shot is, is an important part of winning."

The Knicks have managed to do just that, find the right shots and spread the wealth around. Evan Fournier has led them in attempts (11 per game) and makes (five per game), but they have nine other players averaging at least two attempts per game. Julius Randle is second at seven per game. But he willingly has passed up opportunities for a better shot from a teammate — opportunities that fit into the game plan but might have brought a groan from the crowd last year when the Knicks did not have as many offensive options.

‘I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to make the right play so we want a team that plays for each other," Thibodeau said. "That’s on both sides of the ball. But offensively, if you’re open and it’s your shot we want you to shoot. But if you’re not open, put it down, make a play, move the ball and keep moving. Something that we talked about right from the beginning of the season.

"When your primary scorers are willing to do that I think it extends all the way through your team. The unselfishness is important for everyone. That’s a team responsibility. And when you put your head down we want to attack the rim. When the second defender comes, make your decision and spray it out."

Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley hoped that his team learned a lesson from that first meeting.

"Watching film and helping understand the mistakes we made and different situations we put ourselves in allowed those threes to happen," Mosley said. "Some of those were tough threes. Some of them were decisions we made where we went away from the game plan. But they got 54 up so we’re not going to stop them from shooting them necessarily. But we just have to make sure we are doing the right thing and taking away the ones we can control."

Fournier and Kemba Walker were the free-agent acquisitions and both have been inserted in the starting lineup. That has provided not just relief for Randle, who had to carry much of the offensive load last season, but accuracy that has made teams pay for focusing on Randle. Walker entered Sunday averaging 66.7% from three and Fournier had hit 45.5%.

"I don’t think that’s uncommon for new players, whether it be a free agent or a draft pick," Thibodeau said. "I think the first step usually is to try to fit in. Sometimes they do it to a fault. I thought Kemba was doing the same thing. The game tells you what to do. Just read the game correctly, be aggressive. We want you to be who you are. We want you to bring your ego. But make winning plays."

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