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Julius Randle carries Knicks to significant win over Pistons

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Julius Randle became an All-Star last week. He became a winner Sunday in Detroit.

After six previous seasons being part of losing teams, Randle has spearheaded the Knicks to a winning record — achieved Sunday with a 109-90 rout of the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.

The Knicks moved to 18-17 and hold fourth place in the bunched-up Eastern Conference. It’s the latest they’ve been over .500 in a season since the 54-win campaign of 2012-13.

The Knicks led by 11 at halftime and Randle punched the Pistons’ lights out with a brilliant 12-point third quarter. Randle finished with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals as his bust-out season roared on one night after dominating All-Star Domantas Sabonis of the Pacers.

“I think that’s the nature of the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the schedule is in your favor, sometimes it’s against. The challenge is to be ready whenever you have to go. So back to back, travel, you get in late, the ball goes up, let’s be ready to roll. Just find a way to get it done. That’s what we did.”

And Randle — best of all — hasn’t missed a game, playing big minutes in all 35.

The Knicks have two games left before the All-Star break — in San Antonio on Tuesday and hosting the Pistons in a rematch on Thursday. It’s safe to say they have a great shot at sliding into their week-long vacation with a winning record.

Randle had timely help from RJ Barrett, who weaved his second straight powerhouse game with 20 points (7 of 11). Last season, Randle and Barrett had little chemistry. That has all changed in this remarkable first season under coach Tom Thibodeau.

Randle already has made more 3-pointers than he had all last season, going 3 of 5 Sunday. He now has 66 on the season after 35 games. Randle registered just 64 last season in a pandemic-shortened 64-game campaign.

The Knicks moved to 6-2 since starting center Mitchell Robinson broke his hand in Washington.

Julius Randle celebrates during the Knicks' win on Sunday.
Julius Randle celebrates during the Knicks’ win on Sunday.
AP

Barrett put up 12 points in the first half. He drilled two 3-pointers and barreled to the hoop with muscle for all sorts of runners.

After scoring 24 points Saturday versus Indiana, Barrett was a solid 5 of 7 from the field in the half as the Knicks took a 48-37 lead at halftime.

The Knicks had that lead despite shooting just 36.7 percent from the field. It was an ugly first half — personified by the gritty defense of center Nerlens Noel.

Noel, the last Knicks pivot standing, was a beast in the lane on defense. He notched three blocks, including one spectacular stop at the rim on a drive by rookie lottery pick Saddiq Bey.

Noel finished the night with eight points, 11 rebounds, three steals to go along with three blocks.

The Knicks are ravaged at center. Robinson is out until possibly late March with a broken hand and backup Taj Gibson could miss time with a sprained ankle suffered Saturday. It’s forced Noel into a huge role and he’s stepping into it with grace and grit. He’s fifth in the NBA in blocks per game at nearly 2.0.

Ex-Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr., starting for Detroit, drilled an early 3-pointer. He was 1 for 6 in the half, when the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent, but also had a nice block. Smith finished with seven points and four assists.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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