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Knicks looking for focus, effort against Nets

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on against the Washington Wizards during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks don’t want to gift-wrap another win to the other borough's team on the night after Christmas.

Their sense of urgency and their focus admittedly were lacking before and at times during Monday night’s 121-115 loss to shorthanded Washington at the Garden. 

So they’re looking to rebound against the Nets Thursday night at Barclays Center. Julius Randle, coming off a 35-point effort, is hoping there will be a good response after their last loss. He's hoping that the Knicks' play and focus will be on point against their 16-13 rivals.

“I want that every game, though,” the power forward said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s not just versus Brooklyn, or whoever it is. I want us to be better every game and build the identity we want as a team . . . I felt like we could’ve had a better focus going in [against the Wizards] on what we were trying to get done.”

The Knicks got the holiday off. They’ve lost three straight and are 7-24, one game ahead of NBA-worst Atlanta. They  would love to have added Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the offseason after finishing an NBA-worst 17-65. But the two superstars chose a Brooklyn address, although both have been sidelined, Irving for 18 games and counting and Durant from the start.

Seven other free agents chose a Manhattan address. Since it has still been another epic struggle, there has been talk that some of the new Knicks might soon become ex-Knicks.

Yet the Knicks have given two close calls to the Nets, who beat them, 113-109, Oct. 25 at Barclays Center and edged them, 103-101, Nov. 24 at MSG.

“I think we match up well,” said Elfrid Payton, who missed the rematch with an injury. “It’s just a matter of closing [out] the game.”

The Knicks combined for 45 turnovers in the two games, leading to 54 points. Irving only played in the first one and scored 26. 

Spencer Dinwiddie, who has taken over for Irving as the starting point guard and has led a 12-6 run, was a problem both times, scoring 20 and then 30. He has averaged 40 over his last two games. “He’s having a real good year,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “That’s one area that is important to us, to lock in and slow a guy down and not put him in position to have a great night.”

Miller also said Tuesday that the Knicks’ leading scorer, Marcus Morris, who missed Monday’s game with a sore Achilles, and Taj Gibson, who wast ill, were feeling better but questionable to play Thursday.

"The game is fun,” Randle said. “The game we played there, it was amazing. So, yeah, I can sense the rivalry there . . . There were a lot of Knicks fans. It was almost like a home game for us.”

So is New York still a Knicks city or has it become a Nets city?

As Randle diplomatically put it: “I think New York loves basketball.”

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