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New York Knicks win fifth straight, longest streak in seven years

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DALLAS — Tom Thibodeau, the notoriously gruff first-year New York Knicks head coach, cracked a hint of a grin when asked about his demeanor following a 117-109 win Friday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

It was New York’s fifth consecutive victory, marking the franchise’s longest winning streak in seven years. The Knicks, who had a losing record and failed to make the playoffs in the previous seven seasons, are sixth in the Eastern Conference standings with a 30-27 record.

“Am I happy? You know I’m never happy,” Thibodeau said. “We try not to get wrapped up in all of that stuff. I think you don’t want to get lost, and that’s the most important thing to understand what goes into winning. I think if we’re taking care of all the little things, the big things take care of themselves.

“I think we have a belief that we can win, and that’s probably the most important thing. It started that way in the beginning. It doesn’t really matter what outside people think. It’s what we think.”

The Knicks went 545 games between five-game winning streaks, the second-longest stretch in franchise history behind a 653-game stretch from 1958 to ’66, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“We’ve just got to keep building,” said All-Star forward Julius Randle, who has averaged 30.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists during the winning streak.

Randle, a Dallas native who had several friends and family members in the American Airlines Center crowd, continued perhaps the best stretch of his career with a dominant performance against the Mavericks. He finished with 44 points on 16-of-29 shooting, 10 rebounds and seven assists, becoming the first Knick to have at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game since Bernard King in a March 22, 1985 win.

“He’s making winning plays,” Thibodeau said. “The way we started the game, his aggressiveness set the tone. I’ve said it many times: He’s our engine. He makes us go.”

Randle has been especially dominant in the past three games, scoring 34 points in Monday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, 32 in Wednesday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans and a season-high-tying 44 on Friday.

Knicks guard RJ Barrett said he thinks it’s no coincidence that Randle played so well against his two previous teams and his hometown Mavs, who didn’t pursue Randle in free agency twice when they had ample salary-cap space.

“The way they made the schedule — Lakers, New Orleans and then in Dallas and New Orleans again — I mean, you kind of knew he was going to come out and do this,” said Barrett, who had 24 points and eight rebounds against the Mavs. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s a tremendous player.”

Thibodeau cited Randle’s improved 3-point shooting as a key in his success this season, as the Most Improved Player candidate is shooting a career-best 41% from 3-point range after going 6-of-11 in Friday’s win. Thibodeau also raved about Randle’s commitment to offseason conditioning to prepare himself to carry such a major offensive burden for the Knicks.

“It’s a responsibility, but it’s not something that weighs on me or anything,” Randle said. “It’s just my approach and who I am. I just try to be the same every day — not try to be too high or too low. I am who I am. Come in and work, put my hard hat on, try to be unselfish and play for my team. Let that dictate the results.”

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Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scores 60 points and amazes the NBA world

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Jayson Tatum‘s 60-point performance on Friday night was nothing short of spectacular. Along with tying Larry Bird’s Celtics franchise record for points in a game, he helped Boston overcome a 32-point deficit in a 143-140 OT win over the San Antonio Spurs. He trails only Devin Booker as the second-youngest player with a 60-point game in NBA history.

As tweets poured in after the game acknowledging his record-setting performance, Tatum recreated Wilt Chamberlain’s iconic photo:



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LeBron James returns from ankle sprain Friday vs. Sacramento Kings

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Lakers star LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night in Los Angeles.

James, out since March 20 with a high ankle sprain (20 games total), started and was not expected to be on a minutes restriction, although coach Frank Vogel said they would try to keep him to a “reasonable” amount.

“Obviously he’s worked extremely hard, extremely diligently — as you would expect from him — to get his body back and right,” Vogel said pregame.

“He thought coming off of this trip that it’s time for him to return to the lineup. So we’re excited to have him back.”

James went through a “final test run” at the Lakers practice facility Friday morning, according to Vogel, and confirmed he would play upon arriving at Staples Center approximately five hours before tipoff.

“I gave him full support if he wanted to take more time and he came in tonight and made the decision when he got to the arena that he was going to play,” Vogel said.

Vogel said the team has not determined how it will handle James in the four remaining back-to-back scenarios it has in these final 10 games.

Friday’s game is one day shy of the six-week mark since Atlanta Hawks forward Solomon Hill collided with James’ right ankle while trying to steal the ball from the four-time champion.

At the time of the injury, the Lakers had the No. 2 record in the Western Conference, and James was considered one of the front-runners in the league’s MVP discussion.

The Lakers have lost four of their past five games and are 8-13 overall this season without James, who is averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists.

Los Angeles, which started the season 21-6, now sits fifth in the West at 36-26 and has just a one-game lead over the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks and a two-game lead over the No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers with 10 games left in the regular season.

James will rejoin a Lakers team that has added Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore during his absence and then welcomed back Anthony Davis, who missed nine weeks with injuries, to the lineup last week.

While James’ return was welcome news, Vogel admitted that there is a lot for his team to get right before the playoffs begin.

“My comfort level, it’s not enough,” Vogel said. “Not in any way, shape or form. But it’s just the nature of what we’re in. And we have to make the best of it and compete through it and come playoff time, we’ll be ready.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo ruled out vs. Chicago Bulls with right ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — The Milwaukee Bucks are hoping Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t miss too much time because of his sprained right ankle.

Antetokounmpo sat out Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, after he exited in the opening minute of a loss to Houston the previous night. The two-time MVP rolled his already-hurt ankle when he appeared to step on the foot of Rockets big man Kelly Olynyk while driving for a layup.

Antetokounmpo limped to the locker room and spent a few minutes there before returning to the bench, where he sat for the rest of the game. He finished with one point.

Coach Mike Budenholzer had no update on Antetokounmpo’s condition, though he was “hopeful that it’s very short term.”

Antetokounmpo ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring (28 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (11.2) through Thursday. The Bucks were third in the Eastern Conference behind Brooklyn and Philadelphia entering Friday’s game.

The Bucks are no strangers to playing without Antetokounmpo. Friday’s game was the 10th he has missed, including six in early April with an ailing left knee. Milwaukee went 3-3 in that stretch.

“I do think there’s a silver lining to us playing without him and other guys getting opportunities and growing and developing,” Budenholzer said. “Obviously, we’ll be at our best when he’s healthy and the whole group is healthy.”

The Bucks were missing another starter with forward Donte DiVincenzo — averaging 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds — out with a sore right big toe. He recently missed two games.

“We feel like hopefully if we can manage this, stay on top of it, keep it to a minimum, we expect him to be good to go,” Budenholzer said.

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