New York Daily News

BUDDY PICTURE Randle, RJ take over Hollywood with two-man show in victory over Lakers


And the award for best duo goes to Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

A day after their ugly performanc­e on the same Los Angeles court, Randle and Barrett combined for 63 points as the Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak Sunday by beating the Lakers, 112-108, as the Academy Awards unfolded 15 minutes away in Hollywood.

Randle controlled the first half with 25 of his 33 points. Barrett took over in the second half and finished with 30 points.

Together, they carried the offensive load without the injured Jalen Brunson, as the Knicks avoided a late collapse after Josh Hart buried two clutch free throws with five seconds remaining. Hart’s shots gave the visitors a four-point lead – and halted an 8-0 run from the Lakers – which helped the Knicks (40-30) keep pace with the Nets (39-29) for fifth in the East. The Lakers (3335), playing without LeBron James, couldn’t continue their three-game winning streak. Isaiah Hartenstei­n was another Knicks hero with 10 rebounds.

Randle outplayed Anthony Davis, who scored just 17 points in 37 minutes.

A day earlier at Arena against the Clippers, Randle was an inefficien­t mess while missing 19 shots and throwing a tantrum. There were questions about whether he was exhausted from the increased workload and heavy minutes. He entered Sunday leading the NBA in total minutes.

But Randle shuns all opportunit­ies to rest, and he continued his perfect attendance mark this season. Also, coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t buying fatigue as an excuse.

“If Julius needs a day off from practice, he’ll get the day off. Whatever it is that he needs,” Thibodeau said after Saturday’s loss to the Clippers. “But I’m also not buying that if a guy misses shots, he’s tired.”

Randle bounced back with a vengeance by scoring 18 points in the first quarter. It gave him

644 points in first quarters this season, setting the record for most in franchise history since play-by-play was tracked in 1997-98. Carmelo Anthony had the previous record in 2013-14.

Brunson watched the game from the sideline with a walking boot, the fourth game he missed with a “sore foot.” According to ESPN, Brunson is “unlikely” to play Tuesday in Portland, which would give him nine days off before the next game Saturday at home against the Nuggets.

“He’s a great player for us,” Barrett said. “He’s our floor general. Definitely miss having him on the floor, but while he’s out, we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure out how to get these wins. Every game is intense now from start to finish. We’ve got to figure it out somehow, try to get easy ones.”

Without Brunson, Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride played the point-guard minutes and combined for 23 points.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Bracket Season. Selection Sunday is like Christmas morning to college basketball fanatics as well as those casual sports fans who’ve been waiting for something to pique their interest since the Super Bowl.

For those just tuning in, there haven’t been one or two programs standing out as clear favorites this year, but I still like a bit of chalk.

Houston looked vulnerable minus All-America caliber guard Marcus Sasser in its AAC conference title game loss to Memphis on Sunday. Saying Sasser (dealing with a groin issue suffered in the semifinal victory over Tulane on Saturday) was a game-time decision could’ve been a mind game the Cougars and coach Kelvin Sampson were playing on the NCAA Tournament selection committee so the injury wouldn’t affect their seeding, which was flirting with No. 1 overall before the injury and loss.

I’m going with the thought he could’ve played and that he’ll be strong enough to give it a go by their second-round matchup with Iowa. To that, I think the loss to Memphis is exactly what the Cougars (31-3) needed to ignite a run through the rest of March all the way to the championsh­ip. Its defense is that good and Sampson can outcoach practicall­y anyone in the field.

In the final, Houston will be facing first-time Final Four participan­t Alabama, which started looking the part again after appearing to be off in the wake of the Brandon Miller legal issues. Miller, a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft by most prognostic­ations, is the best freshman in the country. He and the Crimson Tide have not handled the optics well following his indirect link to a murder case.

The Big East will represent well with Marquette and UConn returning to the Final Four. UConn’s length will give anyone problems and the Huskies won’t have to face Kansas in the Sweet 16 when the Jayhawks get knocked off by Arkansas, another team with length and top-flight freshman Nick Smith Jr., who has looked like the lottery pick we all thought he was after missing half the season with a knee issue.

The Midwest Region is going to look like an old Southwest Conference reunion for Texas A&M, which, after being snubbed from last year’s field, will upset cutthroat rival Texas in the Round of 32 and lose to Houston in the regional final.

Speaking of the old SWC, TCU will make a run of its own to the Elite Eight, taking out Gonzaga and UCLA – which will sorely miss Jaylen Clark. The Bruins are trying to be as coy about Clark as Houston was about Sasser, but some reports have Clark (averaging 13.0 ppg) missing the tournament. He was missed in the Pac-12 final loss to Arizona. With Clark, UCLA was Final Four material for sure.

A double-digit seed I see making a run to the second weekend is Providence. The 11th-seeded Friars didn’t finish the season strong, but I can see Ed Cooley pulling this group together even as rumors swirl that Georgetown is making him its top target to replace Patrick

Ewing. Looking for Bryce Hopkins to thwart his old school, Kentucky, in the first round before PC bounces Kansas State.

Another 1-seed I have failing to make it out of the first weekend is Purdue. This has been one of Matt Painter’s best jobs in West Lafayette, but, despite winning the Big Ten tournament, the Boilermake­rs’ backcourt looked vulnerable in the last month. Memphis’ duo of Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams could help expose that enough to negate assumed national player of the year Zach Edey. o please take this column as a way to inform your bracket, if you so choose. Most of all, make sure to have plenty of fun over the next three weeks. Even if I haven’t given you the right Cinderella, I hope your picks fit like a glass slipper.


 ?? AP ?? Julius Randle drives to basket in first half of Sunday night’s victory over Lakers in Los Angeles.
AP Julius Randle drives to basket in first half of Sunday night’s victory over Lakers in Los Angeles.
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 ?? ?? Spencer Dinwiddie drives to hoop in Nets’ victory over Nuggets Sunday in Denver.
Spencer Dinwiddie drives to hoop in Nets’ victory over Nuggets Sunday in Denver.
 ?? GETTY ?? Brandon Miller takes his turn cutting down net after Alabama’s SEC tournament victory over Texas A&M Sunday.
GETTY Brandon Miller takes his turn cutting down net after Alabama’s SEC tournament victory over Texas A&M Sunday.

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