It’s not like the Knicks were winning regularly before Julius Randle and Marcus Morris each missed multiple games this week.
But an already undermanned roster has looked even more depleted without its two leading scorers as the team’s latest losing streak was extended to five games.
Randle is expected back in the starting lineup Sunday against Jimmy Butler and the Heat at the Garden after he missed two games following a death in the family. Morris has been listed as questionable — he missed the past three games with a neck injury and an illness.
“We’re looking forward to getting everybody healthy and everybody back together,” interim coach Mike Miller said after practice Saturday in Tarrytown. “Through the course of 82 games, things come up with injuries and different things, and you have to work your way through it. Our big thing is we have to keep focus on, ‘Can we get a little bit better every day? Can we keep seeing the things that we’re growing?’
“But we have to get better in all areas. You can’t just say we’re gonna pick up their scoring, that’s not how it works. Because those guys add a lot of other things to our team, too. We’ve talked about the Jimmy Butler effect with Miami, but those guys have a similar effect for us, too. They do a lot of things. So I think when you’re missing two guys that score a lot, you have to be better in other areas.”
Miller specified the defensive end as an area in need of improvement after the Pelicans shot 47.4 percent (18-for-38) from 3-point range in Friday’s 123-111 win over the 10-29 Knicks, who hit just 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) from long distance.
“Not having those guys out there, you see how much we really rely on them as far as our offensive and defensive assignments,” forward Taj Gibson said of Randle and Morris. “We’re kind of banged-up, nicked-up right now, especially coming off the [Western] trip. Trying to get guys back in the swing of things. Hopefully we can move forward.”
Morris, a pending free agent and likely trade chip ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline, has averaged a team-best 19.1 points per game this season, with Randle a shade behind him at 18.5.
Gibson registered his best offensive output of the season Friday against New Orleans, with a team-high 19 points in 26 minutes on 8-for-8 shooting from the floor. RJ Barrett scored 16 (5-for-15), and Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock netted 15 apiece.
“When you come into the season, you want to have all your guys available. It would mean a lot,” Payton said of Randle’s and Morris’ pending returns. “We are missing those guys offensively and defensively. So, we’re looking forward to that.
“It’s been tough, but I think guys are getting a chance to get some more minutes. Next man up. We have to figure it out. It’s forcing us to be in a couple different lineups that we’re not really used to, but I think guys are trying.”
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