There is no line of questioning that Tom Thibodeau is less likely to answer than about staring down a harsh stretch of the upcoming schedule for the Knicks. Instead, he will say that the only game that matters is the one in front of the team.
So Thibodeau would not look back at the three-game losing streak the Knicks brought into Madison Square Garden on Monday night or at the next game against a streaking Memphis Grizzlies squad before heading out on an imposing five-game West Coast trip — which just happens to overlap the NBA’s trade deadline.
Instead, he focused on the task at hand, taking on the shorthanded Sacramento Kings. The Knicks were up to the task, building a 29-point lead with 2:50 left on the way to a 116-96 win.
It was the seventh straight loss for the Kings (18-34). The Knicks (24-27) had lost six of their last seven.
“Just concentrate on the game in front of you,” Thibodeau said before the game. “You don’t want to look ahead. Understand what you have to get done today. Try to establish some consistency and focus in the first quarter.”
With Sacramento playing without star guard De’Aaron Fox — the subject of many trade rumors — the Kings never were in the game and the crowd wound up chanting for Cam Reddish to get on the court. Reddish reported in with 5:07 left and the Knicks up by 22 and scored four points.
If Knicks fans missed out on a chance to watch Fox, one of their own pieces who also has been the subject of trade talk put on quite a display early in the game. Evan Fournier was on fire from the opening tip, hitting his first six shots from the floor, including four from beyond the arc, in scoring 16 first-quarter points. He finally misfired on a three-pointer in the final minute of the first quarter.
Fournier wasn’t needed for much after that and finished with just two more points — and took just four more shots — as the rest of the Knicks joined in, taking turns as they steadily pulled away from Sacramento.
Alec Burks scored 21 points off the bench and Julius Randle had 17 points and nine rebounds. Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin each added 14 points off the bench. Tyrese Haliburton led Sacramento with 21 points and eight assists.
The Kings kept the deficit near 10 for much of the third quarter, but the Knicks went on a run capped by a pretty play, with Burks firing ahead to Grimes near midcourt and Grimes quickly sending it to RJ Barrett streaking to the rim for a dunk and a 20-point lead. There was the obligatory Toppin highlight-reel play, faking a pass and Euro-stepping into the lane for a layup and a foul.
It was a change from the recent mood at the Garden, when Randle absorbed the ire of the fans. If the response awaiting him at the Garden from the stands was in question as he took the floor Monday night, he had at least one fan in place.
Alvin Gentry, who took over as coach of the Kings earlier this season when Luke Walton was dismissed, coached Randle in his last stop with the Pelicans before the forward departed for the Knicks as a free agent. And while rumors have begun to sift through the league that Randle is not untouchable, Gentry, with a team full of trade rumors himself, was effusive in his praise for his former player.
“He hasn’t shot the ball as well,” he said. “But the way he attacks the basket and his ability to handle the ball in the open court and create plays are all things he was starting to do when he was in New Orleans, and I think he’s much, much better at it right now. A good guy to coach because he loves the competition and doesn’t mind the contact.”