Knicks Still Struggle Despite Shakeup

Julius Randle’s eyes were downcast and his voice was low. No postgame shower could wash the stink off this game. He tried to talk himself, and everyone else, out of overreacting to this discouraging loss at home.

“Can’t really learn nothing from this,” he said, “I don’t think.”

That, however, would only compound the problem.

Randle, who signed a three-year, $63 million contract this summer, has yet to find himself with the Knicks. He had just 8 points on 4 of 13 shooting in 26:56. It’s clear he is too focused on getting himself right, and living up to the financial status he was given, to put any energy into being a leader on the court.

And with a curious lineup change, the Knicks showed they are focused on getting Randle right. But the problems with this team go beyond one player.

Julius Randle and Bobby Portis react after a lopsided loss to the Kings at The Garden.

So on a Sunday night in New York, coming off a promising, gritty effort against the Celtics in Boston, the Knicks barely put up a fight for a sellout crowd.

“We didn’t play our brand of basketball,” Bobby Portis said. “We didn’t play with toughness, didn’t bring an edge.”

Portis (2 points, 1 for 6 shooting) was given the start in place of Mitchell Robinson in a surprising shakeup to the starting lineup that David Fizdale announced before the game. The thought was that Portis could help spread the floor and allow Randle more room to work. This was clearly an effort to help Randle find his game.

It clearly didn’t work.

“Ya think?” Fizdale replied.

With Portis in the lineup, the Knicks stuck with their switch-everything defense that worked quite well in Boston, but was quickly shredded by the Kings dynamic young backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Time after time, the Kings guards got matchups against Randle and Portis and each time they got easy buckets against the slow-footed bigs. The defense worked better in Boston with the quicker and far more versatile Robinson on the floor along with Frank Ntilikina at the point.

To make matters worse, Ntilikina got into foul trouble 4:27 into the game. The Kings held a 10-9 lead at the time. It was 32-23 after the first quarter ended.

“That definitely didn’t help us,” Fizdale said of the early fouls, “especially when you’re dealing with a blur like Mr. Fox.”

David Fizdale speaks very bluntly about the Knicks' poor performance in the loss to Sacramento and playing RJ Barrett 40 minutes.

Ntilikina was hardly on Fox, however, because of the quick switching scheme. His first foul came on a senseless holding call. Ntilikina switched onto forward Richaun Holmes and when Holmes dove into the paint, Ntilikina grabbed his hip to slow him down.

Later, Ntilikina picked up his second foul when he was defending Fox. Despite the fact that the scouting report tells you to force Fox right, Ntilikina got his hips turned on a crossover and it allowed Fox to get back to his left and drive to the empty painted area. Ntilikina reached for a soft foul, which was a poor decision when you consider he already had one and the Knicks point guard depth was so thin.

The score after Fox hit the free throws was 12-9. Fizdale opted to go with Wayne Ellington — not the bigger, defensive-minded Daymean Dotson — as the first guard off the bench and moved rookie RJ Barrett to the point. The Kings dissected the Knicks defense over and over again while the Knicks, who entered the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the league, had countless one-and-one trips on offense with some poor shooting.

When the benches took over the game in the second quarter, it only got worse. No one could make a shot. Only Marcus Morris Sr. (16 points) could generate anything on offense. It was a 20 point deficit at the half. It was 30 halfway through the third quarter.

This was hardly the team you saw get after it defensively over the previous three games, which saw them hold their opponents to 99 points per game and 42% shooting. After Boston, it felt like the Knicks were on the verge of getting some wins as the schedule provides some opportunity.

“I thought this game we would take a big step forward,” Fizdale said. “But for whatever reason, we came out in mud and never really got out of it.”

In the preseason, the talk was about protecting the Garden and bringing back a physical style that New Yorkers crave. If the Knicks weren’t going to be a superstar-laden team, then let them be a group of blue-collar guys who turn every game into a street fight.

But seven games into the season, that attitude has appeared only in spurts. Three games into the home schedule, the Garden is still a turf that’s up for grabs. Fox and Hield certainly staked their claim.

Fox was feeling so comfortable on the Garden floor that he blocked an Allonzo Trier dunk and glared at him afterward, then later came up with a quick-handed steal and swooped in for a windmill dunk in front of the Knicks bench.

“He plays better when you piss him off,” Hield said afterward about his backcourt mate. “Don’t piss him off, he will dunk on you.”

The game was well out of range at that point, but Fox (24 points) was engaged with Trier (11 points) in a little personal battle. It was really the only kind of battle that went on between the teams in this game.

“We had nothing,” Fizdale said.”We did nothing right.”

RJ Barrett shares what he takes from a tough loss and how he tries to be a leader on the team, while Wally Szczerbiak and Alan Hahn break down RJ's excellent performance in 40 minutes on the floor against the Kings.

NOTES & QUOTES

Randle hasn’t reached double-figures in each of the last two games and has hit just 7 for 20 from the field. He missed three more three-pointers against the Kings to make it 1 for 18 from three on the season. He was also -27 in 26:56.

Barrett (22 points) played with some fire in the third quarter when the game got out of hand. He started attacking the basket and drawing fouls, which he has shown he is adept at doing in the pro game. Hitting free throws remains a concern, as I outlined in the pregame Knicks Fix segment. Barrett made 5 of 9 in the game and is now shooting 47% from the line. The Knicks were just 20 for 31 in the game and remain last in the NBA in free throw percentage (66.8%). Rebecca Haarlow had a report during the broadcast about how Knicks’ assistant coach Keith Smart has been trying to get Barrett to focus on “sitting” into his shot more. They’ve noticed he goes up on his toes and bounces, which creates an imbalance in his shot.

There was also talk after the game about the fact that Barrett played 41 minutes in a game that was a blowout from the early third quarter. Fizdale opted to put Barrett back into the game in the fourth and let him play it out. Barrett is fifth in the NBA in minutes per game (37.1). “He’s got the day off tomorrow,” Fizdale said. After a long pause, he then continued about a topic he could tell was bubbling among the writers. “We’ve got to get off this ‘load management’ crap,” he said. “Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes a game for a season. The kid is 19 years old. Drop it already.” Sprewell averaged 43.1 minutes per game with the Warriors as a 23-year-old, in his second NBA season, in 1993-94. He also played all 82 games. In fact, three times in his long career Sprewell averaged over 40 minutes per game; the second was in 1996-97 (41.9) and the third was with the Knicks in the 1999-2000 season (40.0). In 13 NBA seasons, Sprewell averaged 38.6 minutes per game.

Ntilikina, who picked up his third foul in the second quarter, played just 14:56. He managed just two points (1 for 3 shooting), which was awarded by a goaltending call. Fox said after the game that Ntilikina, who was selected four spots after him in the 2017 NBA Draft, should use his size and length “even more” to get to his spots on the floor. Fox also admitted having that first year in the league to play through mistakes — and there were many for him — helped get him where he is today. “My personality is ‘go and get it’ and that’s something I had to learn to do, though,” Fox said. “It’s taken me two and a half years to really learn that.” The early fouls, the first being ticky-tacky and completely unnecessary, took away from the Fox-Ntilikina matchup. It also took away your best perimeter defender against a team that thrives on the perimeter.

Elfrid Payton (hamstring) missed his second straight game and there’s not yet any indication on how much longer he will be out with the injury. He suffered a hamstring strain last Wednesday in Orlando.

Dennis Smith Jr., who has been with family in South Carolina mourning the sudden death of his stepmother, could return this week. His status and availability for the games, however, are uncertain. Before the season started, Smith had to have Friday circled on his calendar, as it would be his first trip to Dallas after being traded by the Mavericks. But right now there’s a lot more on DSJ’s mind that some revenge game. His family, of course, comes first, and then there’s his game, which, when he left, was not in a good place.

A name in the early trade rumors is Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings shooting guard who is in his third season. He turned down a three-year, $51M extension offer and will be a restricted free agent next summer. But Bogdanovic, who is unhappy in his sixth-man role behind Hield, is having a slow start to the season. He had just 6 points on 2 of 8 shooting (2 of 7 from three) and in a game his team led by 32 points, he was a -7 in 19:09, mostly due to garbage time.

 

Ignas Brazdeikis mades his first appearance for the Knicks in the 4th quarter against the Kings, and shortly after checking in, records his first NBA points by going two-for-two from the free throw line.

Rookie Iggy Brazdeikis, the second round pick from Michigan, made his NBA debut during garbage time and score his first points. He finished with 4 points in 4:11. Fans often ask why he’s not playing, but when you consider the veterans the roster is loaded in the frontcourt, there isn’t much of an opportunity for him to get minutes yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t, the Knicks believe he has a lot of potential. He may need some G-League experience, however, just to help develop his game.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.