Three things to know: Randle drops 40, Knicks now four seed in East
The NBA season is deep into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Randle drops 40, Knicks take over four seed in East after beating Hawks
The biggest news out of this game may be Atlanta’s Trae Young missing time down the stretch with a sprained ankle, but we’ll get to that in No. 2 of our three things. First…
Break up the Knicks.
Julius Randle had another massive game and dropped 40 on a red hot Atlanta Hawks team, and the Knicks gutted out a win against the Hawks. That’s eight straight wins for New York, the franchise’s longest winning streak since Meghan Trainor was singing “All About That Bass” (2014). Here is what that streak really means:
The Knicks are currently the four seed in the East — if the playoffs started today, New York would host a first-round series at Madison Square Garden.
Who saw that coming back before Christmas?
Randle has made a leap this season and is the frontrunner to win Most Improved Player. It’s not just the jump from 27.7% to 41% shooter from three — although that opened up other parts of his game — it’s his improved playmaking and decision making. Going back to his days as a Laker, Randle knew how to use his strength to bully his way to points in the paint, and he still gets those buckets. But now when defenders collapse on him, he makes the right pass out, and more than that, he can serve as a hub of the Knicks offense making smart decisions with the ball.
That’s where the real leap in his game has come, and the Hawks got to see all of it.
Tom Thibodeau deservingly will be in the mix for Coach of the Year for the culture change he has brought to the Knicks, who are third in the league in defense. New York is a gritty, hard-to-play-against team that fights every night — they are a reflection of their coach.
The Knicks may not hold on to the four seed, there are a dozen games to go this season and New York has a much tougher remaining schedule than Atlanta, Boston, and Miami, three teams within 1.5 games of them for that first-round home court spot. But whether they keep it or not, wherever they land in the playoff/play-in spectrum, the Knicks have changed — for the first time in a long time, it feels their ship is headed in the right direction. They are a long way from contending and a lot of difficult decisions remain ahead on that path, but at least the Knicks are now on that path.
And Wednesday night’s win was another sign of that.
2) Atlanta’s Trae Young goes down with what team calls ankle sprain, does not return
This is bad news in Atlanta.
Trae Young went down with what the team has called a sprained ankle late in the third quarter of the Knicks win. He went up for a floater and appeared to land on the foot of Norvel Pelle.
Young left the game not to return. X-rays were reportedly negative, but the MRI that comes on Thursday will tell a lot more about what is next.
Young is averaging 25.3 points and 9.6 assists per game this season as the focal point of the Hawks attack — Atlanta’s offense is 11.3 points per 100 possessions worse when he is not on the court. Without Young, the Hawks have a bottom-five offense in the league.
Atlanta may need to find a way to win games for a while with that offense because it looks like Young may be out for a while.
3) Wizards Deni Avdija done for season after fracturing ankle
You knew this injury was bad when teammate Jordan Bell ran out and covered Deni Avdija’s ankle with a practice jersey so cameras and fans couldn’t see it.
Avdija suffered a nasty ankle injury just before halftime against the Warriors. The Wizards’ rookie got the ball back as he cut along the baseline and went for a layup but landed awkwardly.
He had to leave the court in a wheelchair.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports X-rays show a hairline fracture, and with that Avdija is done for the season.
X-Rays on right ankle of Wizards rookie F Deni Avdija reveal a hairline fracture, source tells ESPN. MRI tomorrow. Season over, but no surgery expected to be needed.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 22, 2021
“Seeing a guy go down like that is real scary,” Daniel Gafford said. “You never know what’s going to happen, you never know if it’s going to be bad or it’s going to be good. Just seeing him down on the floor, I felt his pain. I understand, it’s going to be a long road to recovery. But with the trainers we got, he’s in good hands, they’re going to take care of him. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be out for a good amount of time. It’s tough, it’s real tough.”
“I talked to him a little bit after the game, he’s in good spirits, he was energetic, he’s happy we won,” Bradley Beal said. “But my advice is the same I would give myself when I was a rookie: Understand your body is growing, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, there’s going to be a lot of stuff you can control, can’t control.”
Avdija, 20, was taken No. 9 by the Wizards in last year’s draft. The rookie out of Isreal has had an up-and-down season adjusting to the NBA game and has averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, but has played more than 23 minutes a night for the Wizards.
The Wizards did beat the Warriors and a red-hot Stephen Curry (who cooled off for the night); that was the sixth straight win for the Wizards and moved them into the 10th seed and a play-in spot in the East for now.