Julius Randle became an All-Star last week. He became a winner Sunday in Detroit.
After six previous seasons being part of losing teams, Randle has spearheaded the Knicks to a winning record — achieved Sunday with a 109-90 rout of the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.
The Knicks moved to 18-17 and hold fourth place in the bunched-up Eastern Conference. It’s the latest they’ve been over .500 in a season since the 54-win campaign of 2012-13.
The Knicks led by 11 at halftime and Randle punched the Pistons’ lights out with a brilliant 12-point third quarter. Randle finished with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals as his bust-out season roared on one night after dominating All-Star Domantas Sabonis of the Pacers.
“I think that’s the nature of the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the schedule is in your favor, sometimes it’s against. The challenge is to be ready whenever you have to go. So back to back, travel, you get in late, the ball goes up, let’s be ready to roll. Just find a way to get it done. That’s what we did.”
And Randle — best of all — hasn’t missed a game, playing big minutes in all 35.
The Knicks have two games left before the All-Star break — in San Antonio on Tuesday and hosting the Pistons in a rematch on Thursday. It’s safe to say they have a great shot at sliding into their week-long vacation with a winning record.
Randle had timely help from RJ Barrett, who weaved his second straight powerhouse game with 20 points (7 of 11). Last season, Randle and Barrett had little chemistry. That has all changed in this remarkable first season under coach Tom Thibodeau.
Randle already has made more 3-pointers than he had all last season, going 3 of 5 Sunday. He now has 66 on the season after 35 games. Randle registered just 64 last season in a pandemic-shortened 64-game campaign.
The Knicks moved to 6-2 since starting center Mitchell Robinson broke his hand in Washington.
Barrett put up 12 points in the first half. He drilled two 3-pointers and barreled to the hoop with muscle for all sorts of runners.
After scoring 24 points Saturday versus Indiana, Barrett was a solid 5 of 7 from the field in the half as the Knicks took a 48-37 lead at halftime.
The Knicks had that lead despite shooting just 36.7 percent from the field. It was an ugly first half — personified by the gritty defense of center Nerlens Noel.
Noel, the last Knicks pivot standing, was a beast in the lane on defense. He notched three blocks, including one spectacular stop at the rim on a drive by rookie lottery pick Saddiq Bey.
Noel finished the night with eight points, 11 rebounds, three steals to go along with three blocks.
The Knicks are ravaged at center. Robinson is out until possibly late March with a broken hand and backup Taj Gibson could miss time with a sprained ankle suffered Saturday. It’s forced Noel into a huge role and he’s stepping into it with grace and grit. He’s fifth in the NBA in blocks per game at nearly 2.0.
Ex-Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr., starting for Detroit, drilled an early 3-pointer. He was 1 for 6 in the half, when the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent, but also had a nice block. Smith finished with seven points and four assists.