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Knicks’ home woes continue with loss to Wizards

It doesn’t take a detective — like someone from the Tom Thibodeau-dubbed “minutes police” — to know something is amiss.

Whether it’s a heavy minutes load for the core players, which their coach, Thibodeau, dismissed before the game, or just a team that is in a rut, the Knicks’ recent struggles continued Wednesday night.

Their Garden problems aren’t going away, that’s for sure, after they fell to a losing team for the second straight home game, this time an ugly 116-105 setback to the Wizards that started poorly and never really got better. Now 11-13 in their own building this season, the Knicks are the only winning team in the NBA with a losing record at home.

They were a step slow at both ends of the floor. The ball again didn’t move on offense, the Knicks (25-21) far too reliant on isolation. The Wizards’ athletic wings, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, destroyed them from the perimeter, combining for 47 points, 22 rebounds and 12 assists.

Julius Randle reacts during the Knicks’ loss to the Wizards on Wednesday.
Jason Szenes

The loss of defensive stalwart Mitchell Robinson in the first quarter to a sprained right thumb didn’t help matters. Julius Randle, second in the league in minutes played over the last 15 games, had an off shooting night of 6-for-17 and 0-for-5 from 3-point range, and was repeatedly beaten by Kuzma and Porzingis, the former Knick who heard boos throughout.

The Knicks got as close as seven points early in the fourth quarter after trailing by 17 in the third, but they couldn’t get any closer. Thibodeau curiously opted to keep Jalen Brunson (32 points) on the bench for nearly half the fourth quarter, and by the time he checked back in, the deficit was back to double figures, and soon 15.

Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis blocks Knicks center Jericho Sims shot in the first half on Wednesday night.
Jason Szenes

Very little went right early. Shots didn’t fall. Defense was lacking. The Wizards were hitting H-O-R-S-E shots. Washington was up 7-0 out of the gate and 28-13 at one point. Midway through the second quarter, the Wizards had hit nine 3-pointers and the Knicks had made 11 shots altogether.

Randle, so effective early in games, missed eight of his first nine attempts. Robinson wasn’t the only injury concern. Quentin Grimes had to go to the locker room late in the second quarter after a collision with Porzingis, although he returned for the start of the second half.

Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein and Washington Wizards forward Taj Gibson chase a loose ball in the first half.
Jason Szenes

Despite all of that, the Knicks trailed by only eight at halftime, behind 16 first-half points from Brunson and 10 from Barrett. Their performance on the offensive glass — 12 offensive rebounds leading to 14 second-chance points — had a lot to do with that. So did the Knicks’ improved defense. They held the Wizards to 21 points and 36.8 percent shooting in the second quarter.

Once the third quarter started, however, the Wizards regained control. A defensive three-seconds violation against the Knicks set an ominous tone, and the differential grew to 17 after a Daniel Gafford basket insidecapped a 14-5 run to start the second half.

Brunson did all he could in the third quarter, scoring 16 points, but it barely made a dent in the Wizards’ lead, which was 10 entering the final quarter.

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