‘That’s for them to figure out’

Knicks Julius Randle backs down vs Celtics

The Atlanta Hawks’ main priority during the first round series against the Knicks will be Julius Randle. The Most Improved Player favorite and All-Star is the Knicks’ biggest threat on offense and shutting him down would likely lead to a tough time for New York.

But Randle himself isn’t sweating which Hawks player head coach Nate McMillan decides to stick on him when Game 1 tips off at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Doesn’t matter. Don’t care,” he told media during shoot-around. “That’s for them to figure out. I come into the game prepared, put the work in, put the time and effort into my game. My teammates trust me, coach has empowered me. It’s my job regardless of the opposing team does, which I really don’t care, it’s my job to go out and make the right plays. And that’s what my teammates entrust me to do. That’s what I try to do every possession – make the right play. And I trust my teammates, regardless, if they put two or three on the ball, whatever it is, I’m going to make the pass. Guys are going to knock down shots. “

That’s why Randle’s numbers outside the 24.1 points per game are so good this season, especially with 6.0 assists per game. He can facilitate well and the Knicks have helped him out with secondary scoring when he sets it up.

And that might be what the Hawks would rather see if they’re going to be beat: Players not named Randle getting buckets. Will that lead to a double team? For the Hawks’ sake, Randle might as well have suggested it with this answer:

“If they don’t (double), good luck,” he said.

If they do, RJ Barrett is someone that Randle likes to give the rock to, and he’s seen a large uptick in his play this season as well. He’s averaging 17.6 points compared to 14.3 points in 2019, and the biggest improvement is the three-point shot that he’s shooting 40.1 percent from. He was just 32 percent in 2019.

So, when Randle dishes to Barrett, the lefty will be ready as he has been all year round.

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“I have been locked into the season, just grinding. All day, I’m doing something that has to do with basketball. But I’m just really focused because basketball is really important and winning this game is really what I’m focused on,” he said.

Oh, and just in case you might have worried about Randle’s hair, the braids are fresh for Sunday.

“Theo [Pinson] won’t let me slack,” Randle said when asked if it’s become a superstition for him. “If it’s not a superstition for me, which it might be, it definitely is for my teammates, it definitely is for Theo. So I guess Knicks fans don’t have anything to worry about because Theo said if my hair is ever not braided, he’ll braid it himself.”

So it’s fresh Randle braids, a hungry Knicks team and the first playoff game in close to a decade for a boisterous Knicks fan base in MSG? Just like Randle said, good luck Hawks.

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