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Friday was a letdown against the rebuilding Thunder at the Garden. Sunday was just an old fashioned beatdown at home 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.
“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.”
Only Julius Randle showed up — a one-man show in defeat as he barreled in for 29 points, hitting 11 of 16 shots. Otherwise the Knicks offense was in shambles as they shot 40 percent in the first half when the game was decided.
“We have to get our confidence and swagger back,’’ Randle said. “We have to get our fight and energy up to give us a chance to win.’’
Denver’s superstar big man Nikola Jokic didn’t break a sweat, notching 22 points on 9 of 15 shooting with 10 rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes.
Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, who rarely dishes out credit to opponents, felt he did as good as he could do against the hulking Serbian who entered averaging a triple-double. Robinson scored 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting. In 34 minutes, he didn’t commit a foul.
“I feel like I did great,’’ Robinson said. “He made tough shots. It wasn’t like a walk through the park. He made tough shots. It happens. I feel like I did great. I didn’t get no fouls.’’
Asked how hard it is to guard Jokic, Mitchell said, “Not hard at all.”
Before the game, Thibodeau reflected that the Knicks didn’t “come with a great edge” against Oklahoma City and the club “let our guard down.’’
The Knicks coach still wasn’t pleased with the hustle but the talent gap also was noticeable as the Nuggets, who have a deceiving 5-5 record, drilled 15 of 35 3-pointers. 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.
“As long as they’re the right shots and he shoots it well., that’s all you’re looking at,’’ Thibodeau said. “Before you look at the result, you’re looking at mechanics and if he’s shooting it properly where it’s a good follow-through. Is it his shot?’’
The Knicks will play in Charlotte on Monday and face rookie point guard stud LaMelo Ball, who is coming off his first career triple-double.
As Thibodeau noted, the Knicks 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.
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.
“Some nights there are going to be tough nights but you can still win when you’re not shooting well,” Thibodeau said. “Being mentally tough when you go through adversity is one of the most important things there ever is. Not just in basketball, in life. Sometimes things are going well, sometimes they’re not. When they’re not, you’ve got to have the toughness and the ability to get through those things.”
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 0 for 4 in 13 minutes, finishing with four points.
During extended garbage time, Thibodeau played Dennis Smith Jr., back from injuries, over Quickley in the final minutes.