new york knicks
Mandatory Credit: Jason DeCrow/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Most Knicks are making their playoff debut on Sunday, but they have been prepping for this moment all season.

Danny Small

The New York Knicks couldn’t have asked for a better first-round matchup in their return to the playoffs. In many ways, the Atlanta Hawks are a mirror image of the Knicks. They are both led by young stars making their playoff debuts with a few experienced veterans sprinkled into the rotation.

The Knicks and Hawks are gearing up for seven rounds of knock-down, drag-out, playoff basketball. Julius Randle feels like his Knicks have been preparing for this moment.

“We know it’s the playoffs, quote unquote more pressure, whatever it is, we’re playing basketball. We’ve played playoff-style basketball all year,” Randle told reporters after Sunday’s morning shootaround.

Randle’s comments are more than typical playoff eyewash. The Knicks’ style of play should translate well in the playoffs where the game tends to slow down. New York ranked 30th in the NBA in pace and first in opponent scoring. Leon Rose put together a team that fits like a glove with Tom Thibodeau.

Speaking of Thibs, he and Hawks coach Nate McMillan are already trading barbs about the officiating in this series before it even starts. A little gamesmanship between great coaches never hurt anybody, but the adjustments they make on the court are going to be far more important than any quotes to the media.

How will McMillan and the Hawks try to defend Randle? It doesn’t matter to Randle.

“It doesn’t matter,” Randle said. “I don’t care. That’s for them to figure out. For me, I come into the game prepared, put the work in put the time and effort in my name, my teammates, trust me, Coach has empowered me. And then it’s my job regardless of what the opposing team does which I really don’t care. It’s my job to go out and make the right play.”

Randle was sensational against the Hawks this year. In three games, all wins, the All-Star averaged 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.

Although Randle doesn’t care how Atlanta plans to defend him, he and his teammates have probably done a ton of homework on Trae Young. No one in the league has run the pick-and-roll more as a ballhandler. The Knicks can expect to see a steady diet of Young and Clint Capela in the high pick-and-roll.

In his shootaround availability, RJ Barrett hinted at New York’s mindset when it comes to defending Young.

“He’s really good with the ball,” Barrett explained. “Really able to draw a lot of fouls and he has great passing ability, you know, which is something that doesn’t really get talked about a lot. He can get 15, 16 assists. Better try to make him score as much as possible and try not to let him get everybody else involved.”

Interesting. This hint might imply that the Knicks are going to stay tight on shooters when Young is operating in the pick-and-roll.

We’ll find out in primetime on TNT with 15,000 fans in Madison Square Garden. Game 1 between the Knicks and Hawks starts at 7 p.m. ET.