The Knicks didn’t do much in Denver on Wednesday other than putting the unofficial crown on the head of Nuggets center Nikola Jokic for the next NBA MVP.
Falling 28 points behind in the first half, the Knicks were routed in a row, humiliating a 113-97 loss at Ball Arena.
In the first quarter alone, Jokic crushed the Knicks on the inside, edging them 24-12 on the way to 32 points and six assists in 29 minutes, pushing his way for controls and backhands.
Julius Randle, who recently generated a buzz for the MVP, pointed to the wave of scam calls in the first minute that zapped their minds, but admitted the team started off slow.
“We’re not ready to play either, so I’m not going to blame him, but we’re not ready to play. I’m throwing this one in the trash, ”Randle said after his sloppy 14-point night.
The Knicks (37-29) haven’t won in Mile High City since 2006, and they still deny that altitude is the problem. But there is something in the air.
“In the first quarter, we ended up in a big hole,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. “Our rebound was poor all night. It was a tough game. “
It was an embarrassing game, but maybe the Knicks were due to a lethargic stench after a 12-1 spree.
The scary part is that their lead over Atlanta fell halfway through the game for fourth place and they’re only two games away from the dreaded No.7 seed. Top six seeds avoid tournament of play-in.
“Definitely a throwaway game, but the team is feeling it,” center Nerlens Noel said. “The locker room was not the same. The energy of the guys after the game was not there. “
The first minute was a disaster as RJ Barrett landed two fouls, Noel picked up one foul and Thibodeau was flagged for a technique for gushing about it. Randle, Barrett and Thibodeau all found themselves with techniques.
“Yeah, and we can’t allow it on the road. Difficult appeals are probably going against us, ”said Thibodeau. “This is how the road is. “
As tall as Jokic has been over the past three seasons, he had never scored 24 points in the opening frame before, and the Knicks were trailing 34-12. It was their first quarter of the season that had obtained the fewest points.
“I take a lot of responsibility – I could have changed a few looks,” Noel said. “He’s a big body, a tough player who shoots tough shots. With his unorthodox playing and what they allowed him to do, he has a lot of stuff in his toolbox.
Not that the Knicks lose, but their last six games are tougher – the Suns, Clippers and Lakers completed the six-game Western swing before finishing at home against the Spurs, Hornets and Celtics.
Adding insult to injury, Austin Rivers, in the Nuggets’ rotation after his falling out with Thibodeau and his messy exit, took revenge by drilling six 3-pointers in nine attempts.
Rivers finished with a season record 25 points in 28 minutes. Rivers also had words with Randle at the end of the game.
“I’m sure in Austin Rivers’ mind this was a team that let him go,” Denver coach Mike Malone said. And I’m sure he’s very happy to help us out like he did tonight off the bench. “
After his penultimate 3, Rivers looked at the Knicks bench. Rivers fell from the Knicks’ rotation and did not join the team after the All-Star hiatus, resulting in a bitter divorce.
“I’ve known Austin since he was a kid,” Thibodeau said before the contest. “He’s a great kid. It didn’t work because we got the opportunity to have Derrick [Rose]. It was the only reason. I’m glad he’s in the rotation here. “
Said Rivers: “It was a good feeling to have. It was like they had my back. I don’t even want to enter [what happened]. I have no negativity towards the Knicks. I’m actually very close to a lot of the guys on the team. Obviously, things have happened. I don’t want to highlight anything. Some things just don’t work. That’s all I want to say, I have a lot to say but I don’t have enough time at the moment. “
It was a nightmare night for Randle amid his own MVP chatter. He was 0 for 5 on a 3-point range while committing six turnovers. Barrett was also far, missing his first seven shots and only scoring halfway through the third quarter.
The Nuggets stormed a 15-3 bulge and led 26-6 with 3:35 left in the first quarter when Thibodeau called a timeout. The Knicks started 2 of 15 on the field as point guard Elfrid Payton struggled to lead the offense.
Jokic worked his way to a 5v5 start, hitting deep and grabbing a few offensive setbacks – looking like an undeniable force of nature. Jokic pushed Noel and Taj Gibson away as if they weren’t there.
“He’s having a great season,” said Thibodeau. “He’s a very talented player. You don’t keep it individually. You keep it with your team. There are a lot of things we could have done a little better. ”