On the day that Julius Randle took the lead for most minutes played in the NBA this season, he looked frustrated and, frankly, exhausted.
It was Saturday afternoon against the Clippers, a game marred by Randle’s 19 missed shots and a tantrum that was first directed at the officials and spilled onto the Knicks bench.
That’s been the trend for Randle since his strong double-win performance over the Celtics, when he sat in front of his locker on March 5 and joked that he’s finally thinking about managing the load.
But, as Randle described 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.”
Therefore, even after his three consecutive failures, there was no way to sit in the second consecutive Sunday game against the Lakers. Randle maintained his perfect attendance this season.
Coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t buying tiredness as an excuse.
“If Julius needs a day off from training, he’ll have the day off. Whatever he needs,” Thibodeau told reporters after Saturday’s loss to the Clippers. “But I also don’t believe that if a guy misses shots, he’s tired.”
Thibodeau mentioned the rest practice at the beginning of the press conference.
“You can give him a day off when he’s not playing too. So there are a lot of different ways to give him a day off,” said Thibodeau. “The thing about Julius is he works really hard to be able to handle those minutes and play those games. And it’s a credit to him. And I think he wants to play those games. And we have a lot of guys like that and I think that’s important.
Not coincidentally, Randle’s struggles coincided with the absence of Jalen Brunson, who sat down again on Sunday with a sore foot. Among Randle’s criticisms last season was that her effort and attitude plummeted when the going got tough. He worked on better leadership and focus over the summer, which has translated into success for much of the current campaign.
“You have to be mentally strong to get through things. Sometimes it’s not easy,” said Thibodeau. “Sometimes things are not going your way. So how do you get them to go your way? So, the more you invest in something, the harder it is to pay off. And the more you fight and overcome things. I think being mentally strong during adversity is probably the most important thing there is.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford applauded Randle for his availability after naming his boss Michael Jordan, who played in 81 games at age 39 last season. Clifford was also an assistant for the Knicks from 2001 to 2003.
“It used to be here (at MSG), the first thing you’d see, which was from Pat Riley to Jeff Van Gundy, was the durability chart,” Clifford said. “You get one point per game, one point per practice, one point per target shooting. 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 former players would probably agree with that.”
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