Julius Randle of the New York Knicks looks on against...

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks looks on against the Hornets at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

By the time that the Knicks take the court against Cleveland at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon their slim hopes of slipping into the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference will already have been mercifully extinguished. But just because their postseason aspirations have ended it doesn’t mean that they have nothing to play for in their final five games.

The Knicks were officially knocked out of the postseason Thursday night when the Atlanta Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavalierrs.

Now the Knicks have a chance to push the rookies into even larger roles, to experiment with combinations for important stretches. But before the Knicks move into any sort of future testing, they have bigger problems to sort through.

Just because Julius Randle strongly denied that he has asked out of New York and reiterated his intent to remain committed to the franchise long-term doesn’t mean that the issues have been resolved. His offensive efficiency has dipped drastically this season and while Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau often mentions shots go in or they don’t, there are other things a player can do to help and too often Randle has seemed frustrated, distracted and lethargic.

Getting playing time for Miles McBride and Jericho Sims is nice, but the Knicks aren’t going to get themselves back to last season’s form without answering the much bigger questions. Will Randle get right again? Do the they commit a large contract to keep unrestricted free agent Mitchell Robinson in place? Can the return of Derrick Rose next season fix many of the on-court struggles? Did we mention the decision of what sort of extension to offer to RJ Barrett this summer?

“Just keep concentrating on what we’re doing,” Thibodeau said. “Get better and then you’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated. And then when you are, you assess what you wanna get done.

It’s hard to imagine Thibodeau taking his foot off the gas even with the Knicks eliminated, and his players have adopted the same stance. Barrett has insisted he isn’t looking for a breather and even the veterans who have been taking up minutes see no reason to change.

“I don’t think so,” Evan Fournier said. “I think in life you have to do things the right way. You have to keep going after it. It doesn’t change how we’re going to approach games or practices or anything really. I’m sure Thibs is going to tell you the same thing. He’s a great leader in that approach. You have to earn everything. And that’s the way it should be. It’s obviously disappointing to maybe not to have a successful season and stuff but we're still competitors and we still want to make the fans proud and represent the city.”

Even Randle, who has heard the boos from the home crowd and might benefit from being sidelined — not to mention that he also is playing after missing three games last week with a sore quadriceps tendon — has shown little inclination to sit.

“Everything is a lesson,” Randle said. “You learn from experiences like these, keep moving forward.”

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