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Knicks vs. Clippers roundup: Barrett’s return, Harden’s debut, Randle’s struggles

Some of the stuff our Knickerbockers said after training on a Sunday of all days!

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Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The Knicks, after failing to win a game in their latest two attempts, returned to the comfortable confines of Greengurgh and the MSG Training Facility and held a practice on Sunday ahead of Monday’s clash against the Los Angeles Clippers.

There wasn’t any doubt LA would bring everything to New York, and that was made officially official on Sunday when coach Ty Lue took to the mic and confirmed the Clips will indeed start the Fantastic Four against the Knicks at MSG: Russ, Harden, PG-13, and Kawhi.

The Clippers named Terance Mann their starting shooting guard before trading for Harden, but after completing such a transaction and with Mann down injured and out of the rotation these days, slotting The Beard in the rotation “was always the expected move internally for the Clippers,” per Law Murray of The Athletic.

While not saying it literally, Lue teased that lineup yesterday very obviously. What Lue said, however, is, “When they’re on the floor together, just making sure James is off the ball and let Russ be more the point guard.”

Expect Point Russ to remain the main creator for the Clips (hello Jalen Brunson!) and the Shooting Beard to take on SG duties (ayo Quentin Grimes!)

Per Adam Zagoria, Los Angeles might ease Harden in a bit as this marks his regular-season debut. According to Zagoria, Lue said Harden will “probably” have a minutes restriction on Monday’s matchup. “We don’t want him to play crazy minutes,” Lue was quoted saying.

RJ Barrett expected to return on Monday

Moving on to Greenburgh’s soundbites, Tom Thibodeau addressed the media watching and reporting live on location, revealing that he expects RJ Barrett to return to the starting lineup on Monday after missing the last two games.

Barrett was listed “questionable” of late with what the team called “left knee patellar tendinopathy,” per Steve Popper of Newsday.

“He practiced today,” Thibodeau said. “Going to see how he feels tomorrow. He went through all of practice today. We’ll see how he feels.”

Asked about his placement in the starting five, Thibs said “I would assume—if he’s good, yeah.”

Barrett suffered his injury in Game 1 of the season against Boston, nearly two weeks ago following an offensive action ending in a dunk. Through the four games he appeared in, RJ averaged 21 points shooting 45 percent from the field and almost 43 percent from three, on top of contributing three boards and 2.5 assists a pop.

Knicks on Harden, Clippers superteam

The addition of James Harden and his debut with LAC was an obviously hot topic on Sunday for the players and Thibs to comment on, so that’s what they did if only because the reporters wouldn’t stop asking about it.

“He’s another weapon for them,” Jalen Brunson said. “They have a lot of great players over there—It’s a lot of firepower. We’ve just gotta be ready to go.”

Thibs made clear the Clippers “were a great team before the trade,” though he acknowledged LAC “[added] another great player to the group” in Harden.

“They’re a lot more than one guy, Thibodeau said. “We’re going to have to be great for 48 minutes.

“The thing is, you know those guys because you’ve dealt with them. They’ve been around a long time. You already have a pretty good idea of the things Harden will do because of the way he’s been used in the past, the way they play, so that’ll be a pretty easy transition for them.”

Another player discussing this topic was Josh Hart, who should return to the second unit if RJ Barrett returns tonight.

Hart thinks the Clippers are “an extremely talented team.” Hart added that no matter the new lineups unveiled by the Clips tonight after adding Harden to the fold, the Knicks will “have to make sure we’re playing well and giving effort no matter what.”

The Villanova standout believes “That’s something we can get better at. We’ve been really good this year. I feel we can even be better. The effort has been OK this year”

Julius Randle’s early struggles

The other topic of interest, judging by the reports published over the past few hours, was (surprise!) the play of Julius Randle.

Randle (at least that I know) didn’t address the media or wasn’t quoted anywhere as I’m typing these lines at 6 a.m. ET.

Hart, however, was one of the players touching on Randle’s current form, saying “We just have to find a way to get him into rhythm.”

Randle said last week that things get a little bit packed and crowded when he has the ball and that there needs to be more fluidity on offense so everybody benefits and deals with “spacing problems” better, leading to improved results on that side of the court.

“The biggest thing is to get [Randle] the ball in positions where he can be effective to give him confidence,” Hart thinks. “[Randle] is kind of ‘leave him alone and let him work it out’. Just give tidbits and stuff like that. He’s trying to figure it out. He’s trying to get back into a rhythm.”

Brunson defended Randle last week amid his teammate’s slump, and he did so again on Sunday. “[Randle needs to ] keep trusting his mechanics and everything he’s doing,” Brunson said.

“Then, we’ve just gotta space better, get in his vision, and when he does see bodies, we’ve gotta be able to get in those windows where he can make a pass,” added the point guard. “We can’t be in the line of a defender and things like that. It’s a team thing: for us to be better we obviously need him... so we’ve gotta stick together.”

Following practice on Sunday, Thibs also discussed Randle after the coach’s “trust the pass” comments following the defeat against the Bucks last Friday.

“[Randle] looked really good in practice,” Thibodeau said. “The two days [in between games] are good. [He] got a chance to recover.”

Thibs also said, “You have to put the team first—that’s what brings the best out of everyone.” The coach thinks “Everyone has to give a little,” and “When you get your team to do that, good things happen.”

That was followed by the coach acknowledging that he’s not entirely upset with the Knicks' performances to start the season, in particular the close loss at Milwaukee. “When you go back through a game like that we’ve got a two-point lead with a minute to go...” he started, “a play here, a play there, it’s a whole different outcome.”

“There are some tough plays and we’ve got to learn from the tough plays, find a way to win in the end,” Thibs said, “That’s the bottom line.

“And so just concentrate on improving each and every day,” he finished.