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Struggling Julius Randle, Marcus Morris look to get on track for Knicks

Marcus Morris Sr. #13 of the New York

Marcus Morris Sr. #13 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics in the first half at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

BOSTON — It may not have been the first plan of free agency this summer, but at some point the Knicks made Julius Randle and Marcus Morris two of the highest-paid players on the roster and inserted them next to each other in the starting lineup, hopeful that they would carry the team to a far better season than the 17-win struggles of a year ago.

But through the first five games, Morris has struggled with his shot and Randle has turned the ball over at an alarming rate. The result, not surprisingly, is that the Knicks will arrive at TD Garden on Friday night with a 1-4 record and an ominous feeling that they aren’t all that much better than last season.

Morris, who has been hampered by knee tendinitis that has him getting treatment when he exits a game, has shot 28.6 percent in the last four games, averaging 10.5 points and 31 minutes. The last time the Knicks faced Boston, the team he played with the previous two seasons, he was 3-for-9 and scored 12 points.

Randle has 23 turnovers, including eight in the Knicks’ lone win of the season. He did have seven assists Wednesday to go with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but he was distraught after the game, saying, “I’m not honestly feeling great. I’m not playing well. I took a little step forward today, just trying to trust my teammates. I’m not forcing it. But I have a long way to go before I really feel like myself and do what I know I’m capable of.”

Coach David Fizdale shrugged off the self-criticism from Randle and insisted that he remains confident that with time it will improve. To that end, he said he will keep the same lineup in place Friday.

“I think the shooting is much more of him — he wants to win so bad, and he’s putting so much on himself to help us win, that I think he’s pressing,” Fizdale said of Morris. “And same with Julius. With all of these guys, a lot of it is their agenda is pure. I’m getting text messages from them at 2, 3 in the morning. ‘Coach, my bad, I’ve got to do this better.’ As a coach, it makes you feel good that guys care that much. But I want them to really take that weight off of themselves and understand that it’s a long season and we’ve just got to keep bonding and connecting, and everything will come together.”

If Fizdale sounded confident, it paled in comparison with Morris’s own belief in himself.  He's in his ninth season, and he's certain that his play will pick up.

“I wouldn’t call it a slump. I would say I was missing,” he said. “What have we played, four games in seven days? Tendinitis, [it’s] a little sore. It is what it is. I’m trying to win games. I’ve just been missing.  Hey, I ain’t worried about it. I’m a pro. I’ve been in the league a long time. My defense, I’ve been locking guys up, playing really well on defense. I’m just not making shots. I don’t put it all on my shoulders, but I do have to lead this team.

"Obviously, when you start making shots, as good a shooter as I am, I want to make every one.  It is what it is. I know it’s not going to last too long. I’ve been in this league for a while, so I know how to change it. Get more time in the gym and figure it out.”

Although he said he has nothing but love for the city of Boston and for the Celtics, he did note that they never even made a phone call to try to keep him this summer.

“I’m very surprised by it,” Morris said. “In this league, I’m one of those guys that always came to work. The relationship I had with everybody, I felt I at least deserved that. It’s over with now. I can’t change it. I’m happy where I’m at and leading these guys. I’m excited.”

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