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It's time for Julius Randle to emulate Kevin Durant's heroics

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks during

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks during pregame warm-ups prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on November 26, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

Now, it’s all up to Julius Randle.

It’s up to him to put the Knicks on his back and make his teammates forget that Kemba Walker, the player who was brought in to make their offense better, is no longer a significant part of their group.

This is what superstar players are supposed to do. They are supposed to step up when their team needs it most. Randle, fresh off his first All-Star Game appearance, needs to do this on a regular basis if he wants to move both the team and his career forward.

And, if he wants a solid road map for how exactly to do this, he just needed to look across the court Tuesday night at what Kevin Durant has been doing all season in Brooklyn.

Though Durant struggled to land his shots early in the game, he came up big when it mattered, scoring 11 of his 27 points in the final six minutes to help push the Nets to a 112-110 win over the Knicks. He also directed the Nets' offense, pushing Harden to score a season-high 34.

Randle also was an impressive force without Walker, scoring 24 points with nine rebounds and eight assists despite shooting just two free throws the entire game. Down the stretch, however, Randle’s frustration seemed to get the best of him as he got a technical foul with just under two minutes left.

Yes, I know it’s not fair to compare Randle to Durant. It’s not fair to compare anyone else in the NBA with Durant, who once again is proving to be one of the best players in the history of the game.

Yet, both players are dealing with somewhat similar and disappointing situations at point guard.

It’s impossible to overstate just how much Kyrie Irving’s decision not to get a vaccination messed with the Nets. (I use the words "messed with" here, because I am not allowed to use the stronger word that aptly describes exactly what he did.)

At the start of this season, the Nets were not only contending for a title, they were in contention to be among the most talented teams ever. Irving changed all that by not getting a vaccine.

I can’t imagine how ticked off I would be if I were Durant. Can you picture following your good friend to Brooklyn to play for his favorite childhood team, only for him to abandon you just when it seems that you are standing on the precipice of history?

Yet, if he were ticked off, Durant never let on. In addition to being incredibly physically gifted, Durant may also be one of the most goal-oriented and pragmatic of superstars.

"What is being mad going to do?" Durant said at the start of the season. "We are not going to change his mind, know what I’m saying?"

Instead, Durant controlled the only thing he could control, which is his own level of play.

The Nets are a contender almost exclusively because of Durant. At age 33, Durant is gunning for his fifth scoring title and second MVP. Right now, the only player that stands in his way is former teammate Steph Curry. Entering Tuesday’s play, the two were tied for the NBA scoring lead with 28.6 points per game.

Durant’s performance has somehow made up for the fact that Irving is AWOL, Harden (before Tuesday night at least) was still trying to figure out his game without Irving, Blake Griffin can’t seem to find his shot anymore and Joe Harris needed ankle surgery.

"(KD)’s tough. He’s a great player, I love competing against him," Randle said.

Randle doesn’t have to be a great player to be the leader the Knicks’ first unit needs to move forward after a rocky start. But he does need to look more like the Randle of the 2020-21 season than the Randle of 2021-22.

This year, his 19.2 points per game entering Tuesday night is almost five points fewer than the 24.1 he averaged last season. His field-goal percentage of 41.2 is the lowest since his rookie season, and he has completely disappeared against some horrible opponents.

If you are following the Knicks from the glass-is-half-full room, it’s possible that Walker had something to do with this. It’s clear that the chemistry wasn’t there, that Walker wasn’t going to upgrade the Knicks offense like they thought he would.

It’s been 20 up-and-down games for the Knicks. Now, it’s up to Randle to take a page out of the book of KD, control only what he can control and raise the level of his game.

Tuesday night, despite the loss, both Randle and the Knicks showed an intensity and toughness that is promising. Now, they need to do that on a nightly basis.

New York Sports