The New York Knicks have been one of the surprise teams of the NBA season, clinching their first playoff berth since 2013 and competing for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference. A big reason for their success has been the stellar play of Julius Randle, who made his first All-Star appearance and is a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award. However, the Knicks’ playoff hopes suffered a major blow on Wednesday night, when Randle left the game against the Miami Heat with a sprained left ankle. He landed awkwardly on Bam Adebayo’s foot after grabbing a rebound and had to be helped off the court. He did not return to the game and was seen limping in the locker room. On Thursday, the Knicks announced that Randle will be re-evaluated in two weeks, effectively ruling him out for the rest of the regular season. The Knicks have five games left on their schedule, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers (twice) and New Orleans Pelicans. They are currently fifth in the East with a 44-33 record, four games behind the fourth-place Cavaliers and 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-place Brooklyn Nets. The timing of Randle’s injury could not be worse for the Knicks, who are trying to secure a favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs. If they finish fifth, they will likely face the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been one of the best teams in the league for the past three seasons and have two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. If they slip to sixth or lower, they will have to go through the play-in tournament and face tougher opponents like the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets. Randle has been a workhorse for the Knicks this season, averaging 25.1 points, 10 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three-point range. He has also played in all 77 games so far and leads the league in minutes per game with 35.5. He has been the focal point of Tom Thibodeau’s offense and defense, setting career-highs in almost every statistical category and showing improved leadership and decision-making. Without Randle, the Knicks will have to rely on their depth and defense to stay afloat until he returns. Thibodeau has experimented with different lineups in Randle’s absence, using Josh Hart as a small-ball power forward or Isaiah Hartenstein as a backup center. He has also given more minutes to rookie Obi Toppin, who has shown flashes of potential but has struggled with consistency and confidence. The Knicks will also need more production from their other starters, especially RJ Barrett, who is averaging 17.6 points per game as the second-leading scorer on the team. Barrett has improved his shooting and playmaking this season, but he will have to shoulder more of the offensive load without Randle. The same goes for Jalen Brunson, who missed two games with a sprained right hand but returned to action on Wednesday. Brunson is averaging 14 points and 5.4 assists per game as the starting point guard and is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league. The Knicks have shown resilience and grit throughout this season, overcoming injuries, COVID-19 protocols and low expectations to become one of the most exciting teams in the league. They have a loyal fan base that has waited a long time for a winning team and has given them loud support at Madison Square Garden. They have a coach who demands excellence and accountability from his players and has instilled a culture of toughness and defense. But without Randle, their chances of making some noise in the playoffs are significantly diminished. They will need him to recover quickly and fully from his ankle sprain and hope that he can regain his form and rhythm when he returns. Otherwise, their Cinderella story might end sooner than they hoped. Final Thoughts: Julius Randle’s Injury Puts New York Knicks’ Playoff Hopes in Jeopardy The New York Knicks’ impressive season has been fueled by the outstanding play of Julius Randle, who has emerged as one of the best all-around players in the league. However, Randle’s ankle injury on Wednesday night has put the Knicks’ playoff hopes in jeopardy, as they will have to navigate the rest of the regular season without their star forward. Randle has been the heart and soul of the Knicks’ offense and defense, setting career-highs in almost every statistical category and leading the team to their first playoff berth since 2013. His absence will be a major blow to the team’s chances of securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and making a deep run. The Knicks will have to rely on their depth and defense to stay competitive without Randle, and hope that he can recover quickly and fully from his ankle sprain. While they have shown resilience and grit throughout this season, their Cinderella story might come to an end sooner than they hoped if they can’t find a way to replace Randle’s production and leadership.