PREVIEW: New York Knicks look to bounce back against Chicago Bulls

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Jan 31, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks power forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against LA Clippers small forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Defense may be at the heart of the New York Knicks’ improvement in their first season under coach Tom Thibodeau, but it wasn’t evident on Sunday against the L.A. Clippers.

The Knicks gave up a season-high 129 points to the Clippers and allowed them to shoot 54.3 percent from the field. New York entered the contest holding opponents to 43 percent shooting and 102.7 points per game.

The Knicks will take on another capable offensive team on Monday night when they visit the Bulls in the first of back-to-back games at Chicago this week.

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The Knicks, according to NBA Advanced Stats, have a top-10 defensive rating after finishing 23rd in that category last season. The defensive effort has complemented their consistent offensive output, which continued on Sunday.

Julius Randle continued to pace New York on that end of the floor with 27 points and 12 rebounds, Immanuel Quickley totaled 25 points and RJ Barrett finished with 23 points.

“I thought offensively (we) were good,” Thibodeau said. “Defensively, it’s not what we would have liked.”

Quickley followed up his 25-point performance against the Cavaliers last week as the rookie out of Kentucky continued to deliver off the bench.

“We saw it right from the first day he got here the way he approached things,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a student of the game, a great worker, a great attitude, a great approach. And the ups and downs of an NBA season, I think he prepares himself very well and his confidence comes from his preparation.”

The Bulls watched a five-point lead slip away in the final nine seconds in a 123-122 loss to Portland courtesy of Damian Lillard on Saturday. Lillard’s two triples including his game-winner at the buzzer spoiled Chicago’s bid for a second comeback victory this season against the Trail Blazers.

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Chicago overcame a 20-point deficit in an 111-108 win at Portland on Jan. 5 and rallied from 19 points down on Saturday.

“We have to learn how to win and close out these kinds of games,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’ve said before the losing is painful with some of the ways we lost.”

Lillard buried seven of his eight three-pointers over the final two quarters and sparked Portland’s comeback.

Lauri Markkanen finished with a season-high 31 points. Zach LaVine (team-high 26.9 points per game) finished with 26 points and Thaddeus Young finished just shy of a triple-double with eight points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

After Lillard’s triple with 8.2 seconds left, Gary Trent Jr. tied up LaVine for a jump ball and won the tip to set up the game-winner.

“It was about as quick as a jump ball as I’ve ever seen,” Donovan said. “You can’t challenge that. I didn’t think it was a really good call at that point and time.

“Listen, we have to be stronger in those situations. I could’ve helped a little more by possibly calling a timeout to advance the ball.”

On the injury front for Chicago, Wendell Carter Jr. (right quad contusion) is out and Otto Porter Jr. (back spasms) is listed as questionable.

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For the Knicks, Nerlens Noel (groin) sat out against the Clippers, but Reggie Bullock (neck soreness) returned following a three-game absence and scored eight points in just over 26 minutes.

–Field Level Media