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Game 4 Preview: Knicks at Heat- 05/08/23

On empathy, expectations, and being human

New York Knicks v Miami Heat - Game Three Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

My Game Three prediction fell the fuck apart, as Julius Randle failed to show up when we needed him the most. I have felt like I was on an island by myself most of the season, rooting for Randle to succeed. But let me explain why I refuse to give up on him.

Both Randle and I are from Dallas. Randle grew up in the suburbs of North Dallas, attending the private school Prestonwood Christian in Plano. I grew up in South Dallas, attending Cedar Hill High School. At the end of the day, we can both claim to be from Dallas. The metroplex has become a mecca of sorts for NBA talent. I’ve watched future NBA players compete in the UIL state tournament in the last decade, guys like Tyrese Maxey, Marcus Smart, De’Aaron Fox, and Chris Bosh.

Randle still works out in Dallas during the off-season. In fact, the gym where he trains with Tyler Relph is just five minutes from my place. Randle and I share another similarity besides where we were born and raised. We both struggle with anger. I am in therapy for my anger. I don’t know if Randle is too, but I can tell by his public practices of calming meditations before games he is aware of his. He has spoken about it after public explosions towards opposing players, referees, teammates, and coaches.

When I predicted he would explode for 30 points, I was trying to actualize my unyielding support for Randle’s battle with himself. Twitter is a mean and nasty place towards Randle. Many Knicks fans deride his performances and call him a choker. Much of that is earned, as Randle has failed to show up in the playoffs in the 13 post-season games he’s participated in over three years. His 32% FG percentage is tied for the worst-ever playoff shooting performance with Belus Smawley, which doesn’t even sound like a real player. To put it bluntly, it’s been an embarrassment for Randle in the playoffs.

There is plenty of justified reason for Knicks exec Leon Rose to make a choice this summer on which power forward to commit to, Randle or Obi Toppin, who has the opposite on-the-court attitude as Randle and who is due for an extension and starting role. If Randle fails to show up in this series and does not deliver a performance on par with how dominant he was in the regular season, that conversation will be valid. But I’m not giving up on him.

I think Randle will pull through. The two ankle sprains he has suffered are not an excuse. Jimmy Butler is also playing on a busted ankle and giving it all on the court. Randle’s issues are not physical, they are mental and emotional. It’s one of the reasons he has endeared himself to me. We both have been open and honest about our anger issues. And both of us have had personal failures over the years. We have also been wise enough to seek help. Medication and therapy have helped me process my trauma well enough to contain my anger for the most part, but it will always be a struggle. It seems to be the same for Randle.

I will never try to diagnose what’s going on with Randle. I only know that I see a like-minded person when I watch him. I want him to be the best version of himself. And in the game of basketball, the best evidence that he is in control of his emotions is by having a great game on both ends. There are certain things he can control. For example. He might miss five shots in a row, and it could be it’s not his night shooting-wise. But he has full control over his defensive effort. That’s where I’ve had my biggest frustrations. Randle has been slow to recover and react to defensive reactions, causing easy buckets underneath the basket. I’ve pulled my hair out, watching him slow to rotate on defensive switches, leading to the Heat gain momentum on paint points. In Game Three, the Heat had 50 paint points to the Knicks 36.

Anger works like dominoes, as one failing falls, others follow. The dismal performances by Randle have to be adding to the pressure of him having a better game next time. I feel this in almost all walks of life. Whether it be a story I’m writing, a relationship I’m working on, or the amount of self-love, I try to practice. When I fail, it makes the next attempt that much more daunting. Randle has to lean into what he can control. At this point, it’s about surviving the next game, not the series.

One of the things I’ve learned in therapy is to only focus on what is in my arena of control. This correlates to head coach Tom Thibodeau’s mantra of taking what the game gives you. The only thing Randle can control is his effort. And that comes into play most prominently on the defensive end. This is what he should focus on. It’s an approach I take to heart in my own life. What I am looking forward to the most is Randle leading the charge defensively, the same way Butler sets the tone for the Heat. I have predicted a 30-point bust-out game for Randle, but a defensive masterclass would be just as welcomed. Whether or not Randle finds himself in this series, I will continue to root for him. Because even when the jersey comes off, he’s still a Knick. Even more importantly, he’s still a human being, and while I can’t relate to his superhuman strength or scoring abilities, as a fellow human struggling to be human, that’s when he’s most relatable.


If this team doesn’t earn a double-digit win against a severely hobbled Miami Heat team, they might not be the more talented team. The Knicks will win. I hope for double-digits, but I’ll take anything as long as it equals a win.