Knicks have turned Madison Square Garden into home-court disadvantage

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The Knicks are losing the battles they can win and continuing to fight the ones they cannot.

Their blowout loss to the Pelicans on Thursday was their third straight defeat. That funk has dropped them out of the top 10 in the Eastern Conference and firmly into lottery range. They have lost big (102-91 Thursday, when they trailed by as many as 25 points), they have lost small (112-110 Tuesday against the Timberwolves), they have lost too often (their record is now 22-24) and they have found ways to lose money.

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First, Julius Randle was fined $25,000 for cursing in two media sessions. Then, on Friday, the NBA delivered a $25,000 slap to the team after the Knicks did not make Randle available for media access following the game Thursday.

Randle, the team’s $117 million reigning All-Star, has not spoken publicly after eight of the past nine games, a trying span that has featured a thumbs-down, an apology, a lot of misses and now ostensibly the team’s refusal to let him speak.

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He has continued to speak on the court, though. He picked up his sixth technical of the season Thursday, for yelling at an official after the buzzer sounded to end the first half. He had as many technicals (one) as made buckets, and his outburst came a few seconds after Kemba Walker had picked up a technical of his own.

julius randle, madison square garden, new york knicks

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Julius Randle argues with a referee before receiving a technical foul.

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Everywhere the Knicks look, there are opponents, whether traditional ones on the court, or less common ones in the league office, the media or the fans, who will not greet poor play with applause. The Knicks are not beating any of their foes.

“It was like we were playing 6-on-5,” New Orleans guard Josh Hart told reporters, referring to the fans’ chilly response to the Knicks, after the Pelicans’ win at the Garden. “Usually on the road, your back’s against the wall, really the only guys that you have is guys in that locker room.

“Today, the fans weren’t on our side, but they just weren’t on their side, either.”

Not many are.

In shocking observers as they earned the fourth seed in the East last season, the Knicks did the bulk of their damage at the Garden, which rained “MVP” chants upon Randle, the breakout star. A season later, Randle is worse across the board (most noticeably from beyond the 3-point arc, where he is shooting 30.8 percent), and the Knicks are just 11-14 at home ahead of their Garden matchup Sunday against the Clippers.

If Randle isn’t hearing boos, he is hearing screams for Obi Toppin to replace him.

Those pleas were out in full force as the Knicks shoveled themselves into a large third-quarter hole Thursday, when Randle finished with four points on 1-for-9 shooting. He needs to gain back the respect of the fan base, which will not cheer him out of this tailspin.

julius randle, madison square garden, new york knicks

Julius Randle heard the loudest boos during the Knicks’ loss to the Pelicans.

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Randle was a game-worst minus-26 against New Orleans, part of a starting group that frequently must be rescued by the bench later in games.

“Teams get up to play in the Garden. This is a great place to be,” RJ Barrett, who starts alongside Randle, said after the loss said. “[Opponents] have a lot of pride. They want to succeed, they want to succeed here on the biggest stage. We just have to know that and come out and hit people first instead of playing from behind.”

julius randle, madison square garden, new york knicks

Josh Hart said that Knicks fans booing their own team gave the Pelicans a boost.

AP

In the first and third quarters, which are typically dominated by both teams’ starting groups, the Knicks have been outscored by 127 this season. They start slowly, which leads to the fans’ dissatisfaction, which starts the vicious cycle in which they now are lodged.

As Randle absorbed the boos to start this month, he responded by flashing thumbs-down, which he explained was a way of telling fans to “shut the f–k up.” He apologized for the incident, but not before the league docked him pay.

Randle has been costing himself money when he speaks and the Knicks lost money as well when they denied him the obligation of speaking, all while the team searches for answers that will only become more elusive.

After Sunday’s contest, the Knicks will begin a grueling 16-game gauntlet that threatens to crush their playoff hopes and features just three contests (versus Sacramento, at Portland, versus Oklahoma City) against opponents that are not in the top eight in the East or West.

Perhaps the impending debut of Cam Reddish and the eventual returns of Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel will boost them.

The other possible bright side? Only six of those games will be at home.

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