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Unheralded players keeping Knicks alive in race for No. 8 seed in East

Chasson Randle returned to the Knicks last week.

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The Knicks insist they’re not tanking the season just yet, and Monday night’s 113-105 win in Orlando showed just that – thanks to unlikely sources.

Carmelo Anthony sat out with a sore knee, while New York’s other stars, point guard Derrick Rose (ineffectiveness) and forward Kristaps Porzingis (foul trouble) were strapped to the bench in the fourth quarter, as unsung players rose to the occasion. Sure, it was against the lowly Magic (23-41), but for a team that is still trying to catch the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference race, it was a bold move by head coach Jeff Hornacek to trust the supporting cast to take it home.

One of the lead heroes happened to be Chasson Randle, a 24-year-old undrafted rookie point guard from Stanford who was originally a late cut in the preseason by the Knicks and returned to the team, last week, after Brandon Jennings was waived.

Randle only notched seven points, which was still a career high, but it was his tempo and defense that were key in helping the Knicks (26-38) earn their first win without Anthony in the lineup since April of 2015. That victory snapped a 12-game losing streak during such circumstances. Randle played the entire fourth quarter when the Knicks began its game-breaking run.

While Hornacek has maintained that New York won’t sacrifice wins for the sake of just developing the younger players, he sounded impressed with the way the unsung guys performed.

And perhaps they’ve earned more minutes as a result.

“For those guys to be out, our other guys stepped up,” said Hornacek, regarding the absence of Anthony and the substitutions of Rose and Porzingis. Hornacek even singled out Randle, noting how happy he is for the reunion. “We always thought if he became available again that we were going to try to get him back somehow,” Hornacek said. “He just knows how to play. He does all the little things … I can’t say enough for a guy who hasn’t played yet and then all of a sudden gets in there.”

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Randle, who was known as a top-flight scorer in the D-League for the Knicks’ Westchester affiliate, was effective on defense. He also added five assists (zero turnovers) and five rebounds. He outpaced Rose for the game, despite his limited minutes (25), as the Knicks were outscored by 23 points when Rose was on the floor compared to Orlando being outscored by 27 points when Randle was playing. A 50-point swing isn’t the norm, but it’s certainly telling.

Hornacek’s admission that he won’t use player development at the expense of winning games may no longer be mutually exclusive. There were key points in the game when the coach sent out four rookies on the floor at the same time – with the only veteran being former Magic center Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks took control of the game behind the play of O’Quinn and Randle, as they went on a 23-4 run to bury Orlando for the second time in less than a week. O’Quinn, who’s seen his minutes reduced in recent contests thanks to the emergence of rookie big man Willy Hernangomez, finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in just 12 minutes. Courtney Lee led the way with 20 points, while Lance Thomas (17 points) and Justin Holiday (10) chipped in big time down the stretch. And with nary a Rose, Anthony, or Porzingis being key contributors when it mattered most, the Knicks are now in the predicament of toting the line between winning and developing the youth.

The win still kept the Knicks stuck in the 12th seed in the conference, but there are some winnable games upcoming. It’s still a long shot that they’ll catch the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons (31-32), but even if they fall short, they may have happily stumbled upon something good and refreshin

 

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