Without Jalen Brunson and no defense down the stretch it amounted to a disheartening loss for the Knicks.
After allowing 18 points in the final four minutes, including multiple open 3-pointers, the Knicks ended their two-game winless trip to Florida with a 111-106 loss Thursday night to the Magic.
It was the third straight loss overall for the Knicks (42-33), whose defense becomes increasingly problematic as the season winds down. Still sitting fifth in the East, they have lost six of their last nine games and are now 4 ½ games behind the Cavs for the fourth seed and just 1 ½ games ahead of No. 6 Miami.
“Right now, our team is out of sorts,” Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to unite in difficult times. You get into things together, you get out of things together. There will be ups and downs that we will have to navigate. Everybody does.”
New York was without Brunson, who sat out with a sprained right hand during Wednesday’s loss at Miami. Brunson has missed six games in the last 10, with the Knicks now 3-3 in those contests.
Against the rebuilding Magic, Julius Randle struggled and lost his cool once again in officiating. He shot just 7 of 20 with 23 points. RJ Barrett was worse shooting 3-for-12 with only 10 points. The bench was beaten at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters.
Quentin Grimes was the bright spot with 25 points in 38 minutes.
( Knicks legend Willis Reed spent summers at Rucker Park during his professional career )
The Knicks, who have three days off before their next game (at home against the miserable Rockets) trailed as many as 19 in both halves on Thursday.
Most of the first half was a slop fest by the Knicks. They shot just 32% overall and 21.7% from beyond the arc before the break. Still, the Knicks finished the second quarter on an 18-7 run and trailed by only eight.
Orlando built a 19-point lead early in the second half, and the Knicks resurrected in the third quarter on a 23-4 run.
Meanwhile, Randle’s temper is clearly on. He picked up a technical foul for the third game in a row, giving him an eleventh-place finish for the season. This time, like most of his previous coaches, he was angry with a referee and pressed the issue. Immanuel Quickley tried to calm Randle down, who redirected his frustration onto his teammate.
“It’s a long season,” Thibodeau said. “We have to do better. We know.”
In early December, Randle vowed to be more patient and compassionate with the umpires. It was a big problem last season when his meltdowns became constant. But Randle seemed more composed until recently.
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After Wednesday’s loss to the Heat, Randle complained to reporters about the officiating.
“Every time I make that much contact and shoot a free throw for the game, it pretty much tells the story,” he said.
The Magic are young and out of the playoff picture, making the Knicks the betting favorites heading into Thursday despite playing on the second night in a row. Plus, the crowd in Orlando was decidedly pro-Knicks, which theoretically added an advantage for Thibodeau’s team.
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Orlando’s bright ray into the future is Paolo Banchero, the 2022 first overall pick and favorite for Rookie of the Year. He finished with 21 points Thursday night with six rebounds on 7-of-17 shooting.
The Knicks were lamenting their defense in the previous two losses. That was not fixed in Orlando.
“First we have to get our defense in order,” Randle said. “Get our defense in order and find a way to stop them.”