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Friday was a letdown against the rebuilding Thunder. Sunday was just an old fashioned beatdown against the title-contending Nuggets.
The Knicks’ big start is losing its shine as Tom Thibodeau’s team was battered, 114-89. After winning five of six games, the Knicks have lost two straight to fall back to .500 at 5-5. They’ve scored 89 points in each of the past two outings.
Only Julius Randle showed up — a one-man show in defeat as he barreled in for 29 points, hitting 11 of 16 shots. Otherwise their offense was a shambles as they shot 40 percent in the first half when the game was decided.
Denver’s superstar big man Nikola Jokic didn’t break a sweat, notching 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes as six Nuggets players hit double figures.
“We didn’t play well overall,” Thibodeau said. “Some nights you’re going to shoot it better than others. When you don’t defend and you don’t shoot well there’s virtually no chance to win. So we have to count on our intensity, our defense. There’s nothing we’re doing well right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.”
The Knicks probably didn’t let their guard down but the talent gap was noticeable. The Knicks also couldn’t shoot free throws, going 19 of 25.
It was a second straight rough performance by RJ Barrett, who was 4 of 13 for nine points and three turnovers.
The Knicks will play in Charlotte Monday and face rookie point guard stud LaMelo Ball, who is coming off his first career triple-double.
The Knicks also got outworked. Early in the third quarter, Gary Harris outhustled the Knicks for an offensive rebound, grabbing it amid three Knicks.
Early in the first quarter, Harris broke free down the left wing and leaped for a right-handed tomahawk jam. The Nuggets bench erupted so loudly, one could hear their whooping from the Chase Bridge where select media is stationed near the Garden ceiling.
The Knicks stunk it up in the second quarter, managing only one point — no field goals — in the opening 5:25 as the Nuggets pulled away.
With 2:07 left in the half, during a timeout, a Knicks PR staffer walked across the court to hand out box scores to team brass seated 10 feet behind the sideline where celebrity row used to be.
President Leon Rose, senior vice president William Wesley, GM Scott Perry and assistant GM Allan Houston looked at the depressing sheet of paper that had the Knicks trailing 52-34 and the team shooting 38.9 percent.
Take away Randle’s 7 of 10 shooting, the rest of his Knicks were just 7 of 26 at that point.
By intermission, Randle had notched 16 points but the Knicks trailed 59-38. Led by Jokic’s 14 points, the Nuggets shot 56 percent by intermission and made 6 of 14 3-pointers as Denver led by as many as 22 points.
Jokic came in averaging a 24-point triple double — an MVP candidate.
“He’s a special player,’’ Thibodeau said. “Every aspect of his game. We’re seeing that in the league now — the skill set of the bigs is unusual. They’re like guards. When you look at the steps they’ve taken, it’s gone along with his development.’’
For the second straight game, rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley didn’t provide any spark as teams have adjusted to his electric game. In one sequence, Jokic was sent to double-team him and the rookie tried scrambling away, pushing off for an offensive foul.
After a timeout, Thibodeau made a point to speak with Quickley before going into the huddle. Quickley was scoreless — a minus-13 in 5:40 of the half. Thibodeau played Dennis Smith Jr., back from injuries, over Quickley in the final minutes.
Kevin Knox also struggled, getting yanked after a wild bounce pass went out of bounds on a fast break. The Knicks notched no fast-break points in the half.
When the Knicks cut it to 14 late in the third, Jokic went to work. He hit a ridiculous desperation 18-foot turnaround with the shot clock about to expire and Robinson draped all over him. On the next possession, Robinson bought a shot fake and Jokic darted by him for an uncontested stuff.
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