Knicks hammered by Heat as Julius Randle struggles again

MIAMI — The Miami Heat showed why they may win the Eastern Conference, and the Knicks showed why they won’t make the playoffs if they keep the status quo.

Last season, the Knicks finished ahead of the Heat in the standings, and that just seems eons ago.

The Knicks were pummeled from the opening tap Wednesday at FTX Arena. Julius Randle was again a train wreck, and Miami’s defense was its swarming best as the first-place Heat (31-17) recorded a 110-96 thrashing of the Knicks.

The Knicks (23-26), who fell behind by 30 points in the third quarter, have lost five of six and finish a rugged three-game road trip in Milwaukee on Friday.

Randle was badly outplayed by new Heat forward P.J. Tucker (20 points, 7 of 9 from the field).

Randle was not made available for comment after the game. The Knicks were fined $25,000 last week by the NBA for not having the maligned Randle talk.

RJ Barrett looks to go up for a shot as Max Strus (No. 31) defends during the Knicks’ 110-96 loss to the Heat.
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Shooting guard Evan Fournier, part of a starting lineup that struggled badly against the Heat, faced the music instead after his seven-point dud.

“When you lose like that and be that dominated, you don’t feel well,’’ Fournier said. “Nobody likes it. There’s disappointment, a little bit of anger, a little of everything. They smacked us in the head. That’s it.’’

Randle was lackluster and confused on both ends. He wound up with 11 points on 5 of 12 shooting, missing all three of his 3-point shots and committing four turnovers. Randle was an abominable minus-34 in his 27 minutes of action and didn’t see the court in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t just Randle. Kemba Walker (seven points, 2 of 8) and Fournier combined for just 14 points and shot 4 of 15 and didn’t do much on defense.

With a gaggle of Knicks fans populating the downtown arena, the road team was outclassed and out-hustled from the get-go.

It’s the type of performance that can lead to starting lineup change, though candidate Alec Burks has been miserable the past two games (three total points).

“We’ll see,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The thing is, it’s not just the starters. The bench did some good things, but we need everyone to play well.’’

Randle was off his game again in the opening half, with four points on 2 of 6 shooting and three turnovers.

Dewayne Dedmon grabs a rebound past Taj Gibson during the Knicks' loss.
Dewayne Dedmon grabs a rebound past Taj Gibson during the Knicks’ loss.
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In the third quarter he just got worse. He shot an airball on a corner 3 leading to a Heat 3-pointer. Then he either passed or lost the ball against the bottom of the backboard, leading to another Miami 3 in transition.

It made the score 70-48 with 9:24 left in the third. Thibodeau called timeout but kept Randle — and all the starters — in the contest.

“We wanted to see what we could get out of that group to start,’’ Thibodeau said. “And then we started slow. We started the second half slow, so we just have to do better.’’

Randle’s media boycott for the past few weeks has only compounded the feeling that he may not to be here much longer despite his contract extension signed last August.

Thibodeau is faced with trying to put the best spin possible on Randle’s downfall from All-Star to the key reason the Knicks haven’t excelled this season.

On the ESPN telecast, Jeff Van Gundy, Thibodeau’s best friend, took subliminal shots at Randle in saying the starters need to emulate the bench and play with more grit.

Thibodeau alluded to Randle’s lack of hustle.

“Players are going to go through things, so there’s a lot of things that he can do to help us,’’ Thiboodeau said. “His defense, rebounding, pushing the ball, attacking the rim and making reads. His scoring is always going to be there. He’s going to score. Don’t let that take away from any intensity that you have. Oftentimes, it’s the hustle plays that get you going. That’s probably the biggest thing.’’

It was 11-2 before Thibodeau finally called timeout and 30-16 after the first period with the Pat Riley-inspired Miami defense ferocious.

It never got much better. Miami’s Jimmy Butler sliced through the Knicks’ defense for 22 points and sharpshooters Duncan Robinson (25 points) and Tyler Herro killed the Knicks from deep, combining to shoot 10 of 17 from 3.

Compounding the anti-Randle sentiment was Obi Toppin’s big first half. He was active on the boards, hit a 3-pointer, drove strong to the basket for a layup and put down a circus alley-oop dunk on a fast break with Alec Burks as the deliverer.

In six minutes, Toppin scored seven points — 3 of 3 from the field. He was a plus-4 to Randle’s minus-17 at intermission.

“We went against a championship-caliber team today we didn’t bring the energy from the jump,’’ Toppin said. “We know what we got to do. We’ll earn from the loss and get better from it.”

Fournier, meanwhile, suggested the Knicks didn’t make a needed “adjustment,” and repeated it several times in what possibly could be a reference to Thibodeau.”

“Every time we play a team they’re going to present different challenges,’’ Fournier said. “We have to be able to adapt depending upon what they do. My point is we have to adapt to what other teams are doing.’’

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