Knicks hear boos at the Garden, fall below .500 with 113-99 loss to Nuggets

·3 min read

NEW YORK — Nikola Jokic spent Friday night at the Meadowlands racetrack watching horses and hanging with the riders. Then he arrived at Madison Square Garden for Saturday’s early tipoff and demonstrated the Knicks have no horses.

“The Meadowlands is a great, great, great track,” Jokic said after burying the Knicks in Denver’s 113-99 victory. “Maybe I need to go to the horses every time I travel. Maybe the front office or someone needs to check that out.”

The Knicks had no answer for the reigning MVP, and no remedy for their miserable funk in a sloppy, uninspiring and foul defeat, easily their worst performance of the season.

The home crowd responded by booing the Knicks (11-12), who’ve dropped three straight and fell to under-.500 for the first time this season.

“I’ve heard a lot worse,” RJ Barrett, the third-year wing, said of the boos. “My rookie year was a lot worse.”

It’s all about perspective, of course. The Knicks shocked the NBA last season by finishing fourth in the East, detonating the projections of another draft lottery. They were James Dolan’s disaster before the rejuvenated COVID-19 campaign. But success comes with expectations. And the Knicks are falling short this season while losing last season’s identity as a defensive juggernaut.

“We’re going to win games with our defense. That’s who we are,” Julius Randle said. “We’re not the superstars, three or four superstars on the team like Brooklyn or all these other teams. We’re a team. How we were last year, how we have to be this year as well, we have to win games with our defense. Offensively, we have to understand that some nights it’s going to be going, some nights it’s not. But how we’re going to win is defense and then rebounding.”

The Knicks finished fourth in defensive efficiency last season. They were down to 24th after Saturday’s debacle.

Jokic, the league’s MVP, carved them up for 32 points and 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes, sitting the entire fourth quarter of the blowout. The Nuggets (11-11) are hardly a world beater, especially in their current injury-ravaged state, but led by as many as 30 points in the fourth quarter of the weekend matinee.

Last season, Knicks center Mitchell Robinson flippantly said “it wasn’t hard at all” guarding Jokic. But he had all sorts of problems Saturday. The Knicks never led and allowed the Nuggets to shoot 53%, including 47% from beyond the arc.

“For the most part, there wasn’t any aspect of our defense that was good today,” Tom Thibodeau said.

Randle, who scored 24 points, said it’s time for self-reflection.

“We’ve got to go home and really take a long look in the mirror and see how we’re going to change it,” the Knicks star said. “We know we can do it. We’ve done it. We’re in a funk right now. It’s hard, it’s tough, it’s not fun. But we have the ability and the power to change it. And it’s really going to be up to us if we want to.”

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