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Optimistic thoughts for negative Knicks fans needing hope ahead of Game 2

Fingers crossed

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s game one loss to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat was a tough pill to swallow. The Knicks had an amazing opportunity to get ahead in the series with Julius Randle out and Jalen Brunson having a subpar game. Instead, they allowed a veteran Heat to stay in the game too long, ultimately succumbing to Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and a horrendous shooting performance. Now, New York has a tough hill to climb as they’ll have to win four of their next six games without home court advantage. But here a few things fans can think about to stay somewhat sane and hopeful heading into game two.

Julius Randle’s return

Randle missed Game 1 with a sprained ankle and his availability for a crucial game two still seems to be unclear. That being said, he’ll likely be back on Saturday for game three at the latest and that should help the Knicks to a degree. The All-Star forward only averages 16.2 PPG and 9 RPG on 31.5% shooting in the postseason, but he did play his best playoff half before injuring his ankle, and he did average 21 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 4.8 APG on an efficient 49.2% field goal percentage against the Heat during the regular season. Even if Randle isn’t 100%, his gravity, rebounding, and playmaking still could help the Knicks a bit.

Jimmy Butler’s ankle

It’s no secret at this point that the Heat go as Butler does. And if Butler is compromised, it would be detrimental to Miami’s game plan, especially with Tyler Herro sidelined. While it’s unknown just how bad the ankle roll was, there’s a chance the Butler will be somewhat limited in his mobility and explosiveness for Tuesday’s game. That could help the Knicks slow Butler down but should also help on the other side, where they can look to attack Butler early and often.

They can’t shoot that poorly again... right?

The Knicks shot an abysmal 7-34 from downtown on Sunday and while New York wasn’t, isn’t, and won’t be a great three-point shooting team, game one’s horrid shooting performance (20.6%), was bad even for this Knicks team. Heading into the game, the Knicks were shooting 28.2% from downtown meaning if they had just shot the three-point ball as they had so far in the playoffs, they could have come out with a victory. And in a seven-point loss where two threes could have easily been the difference, it’s something to try and be positive about going forward.

Jalen Brunson should be better (if he plays)

Despite scoring 25 points, Brunson had a rare and uncharacteristically bad game on Sunday, going 0-7 from downtown and coughing up a playoff career-high five turnovers. As frustrating as it was at times seeing Brunson force the issue and miss shots he often makes, fans should have confidence in the tough point guard. During the regular season, Brunson has often bounced back from subpar performances, rarely having multiple in a row. Fans can also rest assured knowing that since 2022, Brunson has failed to knock down a three-pointer in just eight of his 24 playoff games and has turned the ball over three or more times in just five games. There’s no doubt that Brunson wasn’t his best self on Sunday but fans should be able to expect a better performance come Tuesday night if he is able to push through his sore ankle and give it a go.

The whistle should balance out

For much of the season, the Knicks were among the league leaders in free throw attempts per game, averaging 25.5 per contest. And not much has changed throughout the playoffs so far, as they are averaging 24.5 free throw attempts per game. Unfortunately, in Sunday’s loss, the Knicks managed to get to the line just 20 times, and made just 12 of them. And making things even worse, the Heat, who average 22 free throw attempts per game, got to the line 29 times. Now, a lot has been made of the officiating in game one and how the whistle seemed to be a bit uneven, but this isn’t to say that the Knicks lost the game solely because of the officiating. Like many have pointed out, the Knicks missed an inordinate amount of open looks. And the Heat also do deserve some credit for being aggressive in driving to the paint and daring the Knicks to kick the ball out to shooters. That being said, New York, with some adjustments, may be able to even out the free throw attempts more, helping them close the game one gap.