Through all of their struggles this season, the Knicks at least knew they could count on RJ Barrett. He spoke on Tuesday about his durability. Then, with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter Thursday night, he went awkwardly to the floor and immediately grasped his right ankle.
He shot his free throws and headed straight to the locker room before being ruled out for the remainder of the game with a sprained ankle.
Without their lottery pick, disgruntled Knicks fans had little to watch at the Garden as the Knicks lost to the Suns, 121-98.
The most life the Knicks showed came as time expired when Julius Randle took an inbounds pass and threw the ball directly at the Suns’ Elie Okobo. He tossed the ball back toward Randle, who started toward him but was cut off by teammates and officials as the frustrated Knicks were sent to the locker room.
The question is where they go from here. The locker room was closed for a long time after the game, and interim coach Mike Miller took so long to emerge that it raised questions about whether this might be another impromptu front-office appearance.
When the 11-31 Knicks finally spoke, with losses in seven of their last eight games — mostly one-sided — even they admitted the time for excuses is over.
“[Expletive] that,” Marcus Morris said. “The time is now. I mean, at some point, we as a team, we have to pull together. We’ve been around each other for a long time. Everybody knows each other’s game. We as a team have to be better coming out in quarters, starting quarters, starting the third quarter. Things like that, we got to control. It doesn’t have [anything to do] with new faces. We did that in the beginning, talked about that in the beginning. As a team, we have to pull together, got to know what we’re looking for, know the game plan, execute the game plan and just give ourselves a chance to win.”
Just how long they will have to try to turn this around is a question that will trail them to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
Morris was the last of seven free agents to sign with them, slipping out of a verbal commitment with the Spurs for a two-year, $20 million deal. Instead, he signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Knicks when Reggie Bullock’s injury reduced his contract from a two-year, $21 million deal to a $4 million deal with a team option for next year.
That bet on himself has paid off, with Morris averaging a team-high 19.1 points per game and converting 46.9% from beyond the arc. In his last game before sitting out, he scored a career-high 38 points.
Those numbers likely will earn him a big payday next summer in a much less crowded free-agent market. His play also has made him a target of inquiry from contending teams around the NBA convinced that he would serve a much better purpose for a playoff-bound team.
Asked if he has pleaded his case to keep Morris in town past the trade deadline, Miller said with a smile before the game, “I think obviously he’s valued by our organization.”
“That’s not my job,” Morris said of the trade possibilities. “My job’s to go out there and play basketball. Whatever they do up top, that’s what they do. My job is continue to try to lead these young guys and keep getting better, be a leader and keep getting better myself, try to push us to some wins.”
Devin Booker scored 29 points in 27 minutes, Deandre Ayton added 26 points and 21 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio -- back after missing the previous game for the birth of a child — had 25 points and 13 assists for the Suns (17-24).
Randle had 26 points and Morris added 17 but shot 4-for-11 and had little impact on either end for the Knicks (11-31).
Notes & quotes: Barrett, who was on crutches in the locker room, was unsure how long he could be out. “It’s a sprain,” he said. “They’re going to re-evaluate it tomorrow. That’s all I know. It hurts. It hurts. I don’t know. Never really been hurt.” . . . Bullock was held out with a sore neck. Dennis Smith Jr. again was sidelined with an oblique strain. Frank Ntilikina returned to action after missing the previous two games with a sore groin . . . Kenny Wooten, who was signed to a two-way contract Tuesday, practiced with the team Wednesday, which counts as a day against his NBA allotment. He was not with the Knicks on Thursday, instead practicing with the G League Westchester Knicks and planning to play with them Friday.