Knicks remain confident without Randle as Brunson steps up vs. Cavs

CLEVELAND -- The New York Knicks feel terrible that All-Star forward Julius Randle is out for at least two weeks because of a left ankle injury, but as a group, they remain steadfast in the belief that they can keep winning in the short term without their talented big man.

"Feel for our guy," Knicks guard Jalen Brunson said after Friday's shootaround. "He's been [in] pretty much every game all year. It's terrible timing, but life always throws us curveballs. It's all about how you respond, and we're just going to have to, as a group collectively, pick up where he left off and for now just try to get one without him."

They certainly did that Friday night.

Without Randle, the Knicks (44-33) defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116, with Brunson carrying the team behind a career-high 48 points.

"There's nothing that he does that surprises you," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Brunson after the game. "It's a testament to how tough-minded he is. He's so mentally tough, particularly when he has adversity. He's nicked up a little bit, but he's a machine, he just keeps going. And I think that's the best leadership you could have, the things that you do each and every day. It's not phony, it's not fake. It's not disingenuous. That's who he is, he's authentic, he cares about the team, he cares about winning."

Brunson has been dealing with a hand injury that occurred during a March 23 loss to the Heat and forced him to miss two games. He said earlier Friday that all tests run on the hand "came back negative."

Randle, meanwhile, injured his ankle in the second quarter of Wednesday's win over the Heat, and the Knicks announced Thursday that he will be reevaluated in two weeks, effectively putting him out for the rest of the regular season.

Brunson said he has been texting with Randle and is hopeful the injury won't sideline him for too long.

"His spirits are high," Brunson said. "He's a fighter, he's going to try and get back as healthy as he can, as fast as he can. He's a warrior. You know how he is when he answers questions, he's very straight-faced, monotone, but he's a great teammate, great guy to be around, so he'll be back."

Knicks swingman RJ Barrett said he believes the Knicks are better equipped to handle Randle's injury than the group was a year ago -- especially now that Brunson, who signed with the Knicks last summer after leaving the Dallas Mavericks, is in the fold.

"One hundred percent," Barrett said. "I think it could be anybody's night. The way I come in looking at it I want to make the right plays. Whether I'm scoring, facilitating, rebounding, playing defense, I just want to make the right plays and whenever one guy goes down, we always step up. ... I think it takes more focus being down an All-Star, but I'm very confident in our team and how we can handle things."

Like Barrett, Brunson is optimistic the Knicks will rally around each other in Randle's absence.

"We have more than enough guys that are capable of helping out," Brunson said. "That's what a team is for and that's what we do, we're professionals. We got to stay professional and just do our job."

Brunson had to chuckle when asked how many times he had heard Thibodeau say the group had "more than enough," no matter which players were on the floor.

"A million times," Brunson said. "Too much."

Has it been more in recent days in the wake of the Randle news?

"No," Brunson said. "It's about the same."

Thibodeau wouldn't say if he expects Randle back for the start of the playoffs.

"Whenever he's ready," Thibodeau said. "It's a sprained ankle, so when the medical clears him and he's ready to go, obviously he'll be back."