Kemba Walker needs Suns rout to be lesson for Knicks: ‘We need to grow’

ATLANTA — Kemba Walker talked late Friday night about the Suns’ offensive brilliance, but he might have been inferring to all the things the Knicks lack right now.

This was in the Garden’s press room after the Suns had jumped all over the Knicks in a 118-97 Black Friday whitewash. Reporters, under this season’s COVID-19 policy, still aren’t permitted in the locker room to talk with players.

Walker, the Knicks’ starting point guard and a Bronx native, wore a bomber jacket in retro powder-blue colors of the Charlotte Hornets, his former team of eight years.

Walker, 31, was about to make the trip to Atlanta for the game Saturday night, but elected not to play on the second night of a back-to-back — which was commonplace for him last season with the Celtics because of his arthritic left knee.

“They make you move around,’’ Walker said of the Suns. “They play really smart basketball. They move the ball really well. They play together. You can tell they play for each other. They get great looks.’’

Suns superstar Devin Booker drilled the Knicks for 32 points in 35 minutes Friday, hitting shots from all spots of the Garden floor, covered or uncovered.

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Booker’s teammates had their way, too, even if point guard Chris Paul was relatively quiet, with 14 points and 10 assists. Reserve swingman Cam Johnson and point guard Cam Payne, who made names for themselves in last season’s playoffs when Phoenix advanced to the NBA Finals, looked more than legitimate.

The two Cams combined for 23 points and each was a plus-14. The Knicks had interest in the lefty Payne as a free agent, but he wasn’t going anywhere but Phoenix.

Walker, who replaced Elfrid Payton as starting point guard, seemed to acknowledge just how far the Knicks are from title contention.

Kemba Walker (left) thinks the Knicks can take a lesson from Devin Booker (right) and the Suns’ offense.
Getty, Jason Szenes

With the Hawks on tap Saturday night and both Walker and Derrick Rose (ankle sprain) out, the Knicks were on the verge of falling to .500.

In other seasons this millennium, that would be considered a respectable mark. But this is a club coming off a fourth-place, 41-31 campaign that roared into August with a league-high in cap space.

“It’s a great learning experience,’’ Walker said after the Suns’ debacle. “It’s a great team out there. We need to grow as a team.’’

At this stage, with the improved East and not an improved roster, the Knicks may fight just to get into the play-in tournament if something doesn’t change with their chemical balance.

They entered Saturday in a tie for eighth place with the 76ers at 10-9. The Knicks lead the 13th-place Pacers by two games. That’s 13 teams vying for 10 spots — and that might be the case all season.

The 7-to-10 finishers won’t get an automatic pass to the playoffs under a format in place, in one form or another, for a third season amid the pandemic.

The Knicks didn’t look like a playoff team Friday. In the second quarter versus Phoenix, the Knicks shot 5-for-19 from the field (0-for-7 from 3-point range) and turned the ball over four times, leading to easy fast-break points for the Suns.

“We have to be better on that end and take care of the ball better,’’ said Walker, who was in Boston for the Knicks’ 2020-21 renaissance.

Julius Randle, the Knicks’ leader and a first-time All-Star last season, was out of explanations Friday night after the defeat. He was sullen when asked twice about what problems he saw on the court. He certainly did not sound like a leader.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.’’ Randle said. “I’m not really sure.’’

Randle sat on the podium next to Walker. There hasn’t been a good equilibrium between Randle and the new backcourt of Walker and shooting guard Evan Fournier.

Walker and Fournier were Boston’s starting backcourt last season and new Celtics general manager Brad Stevens showed no interest in their returning this season. He was especially fast to trade the hobbled Walker.

Julius Randle had little to say about the Knicks’ struggles following their blowout loss to the Suns.
NBAE via Getty Images

Last week, Randle said he felt the offense was “choppy.’’ Things weren’t coming naturally on alternating which hot player to go through.

For instance, Fournier got going early, hitting three 3-pointers in the opening couple of minutes. He went stone cold thereafter, was benched in the fourth quarter and finished the night shooting 4-for-15.

One adjustment Phoenix made was putting swingman Mikal Bridges, a defensive stalwart, on Fournier. Before the game, Thibodeau called Bridges “the most underrated player in the league.”

Thibodeau was in Minnesota when Knicks GM Scott Perry passed on both Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges at No. 9 to take Kevin Knox, who finally made an appearance Friday in the fourth quarter when the Knicks were down 20.

One source said the ultimate decision to pass on Mikal Bridges was that they didn’t think he was a good-enough jump shooter.

The 7:39 of playing time marked Knox’s first action since a one-minute stint Nov. 7 versus Cleveland. Bridges finished the night a game-high plus-18 — another dagger on an awful post-holiday night.

Thibodeau went on a riff that the Knicks were missing the fiery energy needed against a topnotch club like the Suns, who entered Saturday having won 15 straight games. He went as far as defining “intensity’’ — “the combination of maximum concentration.’’

Meanwhile, Randle was in no mood to discuss the upcoming rematch with the Hawks — the teams’ first battle since the playoffs, when Randle struggled and the Knicks were routed in five games. So far they haven’t really recovered their moxie.

“No, it’s just another game,’’ said Randle. “Another game on the schedule of 82.’’

Yeah, sure.

Artmotion U.S.A

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