On the day Julius Randle took the lead for most minutes played in the NBA this season, he looked frustrated and, frankly, exhausted.
This was Saturday afternoon against the Clippers, a game lowlighted by Randle’s 19 missed shots and a tantrum that was first directed at the referees and spilled to the Knicks bench.
It had been trending this way for Randle since his strong performance in the double-OT victory over the Celtics, when he sat in front of his locker on March 5 and joked that he’s finally contemplating load management.
But as Randle outlined in a more serious moment earlier that same day in Boston, he doesn’t believe in planned rest. The strategy, as Randle said, is akin to “cheating myself.”
So even after his three consecutive duds, there was no sitting in the second game of a back-to-back Sunday against the Lakers. Randle maintained his perfect attendance this season.
Coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t buying fatigue as an excuse.
“If Julius needs a day off from practice, he’ll get the day off. Whatever it is that he needs,” Thibodeau told reporters after Saturday’s loss to the Clippers. “But I’m also not buying that if a guy misses shots, he’s tired.”
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Thibodeau brought up the practice rest earlier in the press conference. But it’s tough to figure out when Randle is taking these days off since the Knicks haven’t announced a practice in over two weeks.
“You can give him a day off when you’re not playing, too. So there’s a lot of different ways to give him a day off,” Thibodeau said. “The thing about Julius is he works very hard so he can handle these minutes and play these games. And it’s a credit to him. And I think he wants to play these games. And we have a number of guys like that and I think that’s important.”
Not coincidentally, Randle’s struggles had overlapped with the absence of Jalen Brunson, who sat again Sunday with a sore foot. Among the criticisms of Randle last season was that his effort and attitude plunged when the going got tough. He worked on better leadership and focus in the summer, which translated to success for much of the current campaign.
“You have to be mentally tough to get through things. Sometimes it’s not easy,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes things aren’t going your way. So how do you make them go your way? So the more you invest in something, the harder it is to surrender. And the more you fight and get through things. I think being mentally tough through adversity is probably the most important thing there is.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford applauded Randle for his availability after citing his boss, Michael Jordan, who played 81 games at 39 years old in his final season. Clifford was also an assistant with the Knicks from 2001 to 2003.
“It used to be here (at MSG), the first thing you saw, which was Pat Riley to Jeff Van Gundy, was the durability chart,” Clifford said. “You got a point for a game, a point for practice, a point for shootaround. If you missed one, it went back to zero.”
Clifford added that “you can’t really prove that load management is a valid thing, you can’t. And I think ex players would probably agree with that.”