New York Knicks All-Star Julius Randle believes his side are figuring things out defensively after smothering the Phoenix Suns 102-83 on Monday.
The Knicks began the season shaky on the defensive end, posting the seventh-worst defensive rating in the league during their 16 games in November, giving up 115.1 points per 100 possessions.
They were a different team in December, limiting teams to 108.2 points per 100 possessions for the third-best defense, and that included a five-game losing streak at the end of the month where they conceded at least 113 points in each defeat.
But after getting back on the right track with a 108-88 victory against the Houston Rockets on New Year's Eve, the Knicks held their second consecutive opponent under 90 points for the second time this season, illustrating how imposing they can be on that end of the floor when they are switched on.
Their back-to-back defensive masterclasses have boosted the Knicks to the eighth-ranked defense for the season, with every team ahead of them essentially already pencilled into the playoffs.
Get that OUTTA HERE pic.twitter.com/qsmhAuEJGZ— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 2, 2023
Against the Suns, Randle received MVP chants from the Madison Square Garden crowd as he led the way with a game-high 28 points (seven-of-18 shooting), a game-high 16 rebounds and an equal team-high six assists.
It was a great way to start January after he put up terrific figures of 28.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 47.8 per cent shooting in December, rediscovering the form that made him an All-Star in the 2020-21 season.
Speaking to the media after the game, the man who has endured his fair share of criticism from Knicks fans said "it's good to be on the good side of The Garden", before breaking down what has been behind their strong form.
"Defensively, we had to get back to our ways," Randle said. "When we won eight in a row, the defensive end was big for us. We feel that rhythm and chemistry coming back on that end."
Randle also spoke about how the addition of point guard Jalen Brunson in the offseason has helped his game.
"Honestly, it’s a lot easier [to score this season]," he said. "I attributed a lot of that to Jalen [Brunson], obviously.
"Also [Immanuel Quickley], and our guards… I’m not having to work as hard to get buckets or score. So, the game is a lot easier on my body."
When asked if he has put any thought into a potential return to All-Star Weekend, Randle said he is hoping to get another chance to share that experience with his loved ones.
"Obviously, you work hard to put yourself in a position to do that," he said. "So it would be amazing [to play in the All-Star Game].
"I love it. Not necessarily for me, obviously it is great, but I love it to be able to experience it with my family because they’re the ones that really make the true sacrifice, and have led me to dedicate myself to the game the way I’ve been able to do in the summers, and night-in, night-out.
"So I love to be able to let them enjoy it and see the rewards of it and stuff like that, that’s why it’s important. But for me, whatever the team needs night-in and night-out – whatever it is – I just want to help the team."