With all due respect, the Knicks saw what a true-blue MVP looks like.
The Knicks didn’t do much in Denver on Wednesday other than put the unofficial crown on Nuggets center Nikola Jokic’s head for the NBA’s next MVP.
Falling behind by 28 points in the first half, the Knicks got routed in a wire-to-wire, humbling 113-97 loss at Ball Arena.
In the first quarter alone, Jokic crushed the Knicks inside, outscoring them 24-12 on the way to 32 points and six assists in 29 minutes, bulling his way for drives and putbacks.
Julius Randle, who has recently garnered MVP buzz, pointed to the spate of foul calls in the opening minute that zapped their spirit but admitted the team started sluggishly.
“We didn’t come ready to play either so, I’m not going to blame that, but we didn’t come ready to play. I’m throwing this one in the trash,’’ Randle said after his sloppy 14-point evening.
The Knicks (37-29) haven’t won in the Mile High City since 2006, and they always deny altitude is the issue. But something’s in the air.
“The first quarter we got into a big hole,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Our rebounding was poor all night. It was a challenging game.’’
It was an embarrassing game, but maybe the Knicks were due for a lethargic stinker after coming in on a 12-1 spree.
The scary part is their lead over Atlanta dropped to just half-game for fourth place and they are just two games out of the dreaded No. 7 seed. The top six seeds avoid the play-in tournament.
“Definitely a throwaway game but the team feels it,’’ center Nerlens Noel said. “The locker room wasn’t the same. Guys’ energy postgame wasn’t there.’’
The opening minute was a disaster as RJ Barrett picked up two fouls, Noel picked up a foul and Thibodeau got flagged for a technical for yapping about it. Randle, Barrett and Thibodeau all wound up with technicals.
“Yeah, and we can’t allow it on the road. Probably some tough calls go against us,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s how the road is.’’
As great as Jokic has been the last three seasons, he had never previously scored 24 points in the opening frame, and the Knicks trailed 34-12. It was their lowest-scoring first quarter of the season.
“I take a lot responsibility — I could’ve changed some looks up,’’ Noel said. “He’s a big body, tough player and getting some tough shots off. With his unorthodox play and what they let him get away with, he’s got a lot of tricks in his tool box.”
Not that the Knicks losing out is going to happen, but their final six games are beyond rough — with the Suns, Clippers and Lakers finishing the six-game Western swing before closing out at home against the Spurs, Hornets and Celtics.
Adding insult to injury, Austin Rivers, in the Nuggets rotation after his falling out with Thibodeau and messy exit, exacted revenge as he drilled six 3-pointers on nine attempts.
Rivers finished with a season-high 25 points in 28 minutes. Rivers also had words with Randle late in the game.
“I’m sure in Austin Rivers’ mind, this is a team that let him go,’’ Denver coach Mike Malone said. “And I’m sure he’s taking a lot of satisfaction with helping us the way he did tonight off the bench.’’
After his second-to-last 3, Rivers stared down the Knicks bench. Rivers fell out of the Knicks rotation and didn’t rejoin the team after the All-Star break resulting in a bitter divorce.
“I’ve known Austin since he’s a kid,’’ Thibodeau said before the contest. “He’s a great kid. It didn’t work out because we had an opportunity to get Derrick [Rose]. That was the only reason. I’m happy he’s in the rotation here.’’
Said Rivers: “It was a good feeling to have. It was like they had my back. I don’t even want to get into [what happened]. I don’t have any negativity towards the Knicks. I’m actually very close with a lot of guys on the team. Obviously things happened. I don’t want to bring any of that to light. Some things just don’t work out. That’s all I want to say, I have a lot I could say but I don’t have enough time right now.’’
It was a nightmare night for Randle amid his own MVP chatter. He was 0-for-5 from 3-point range while committing six turnovers. Barrett also was way off, missing his first seven shots and not scoring until midway through the third quarter.
The Nuggets stormed to a 15-3 bulge and were up 26-6 with 3:35 left in the first quarter when Thibodeau called a timeout. The Knicks started 2 of 15 from the field as point guard Elfrid Payton really struggled running the offense.
Jokic muscled his way to a 5-for-5 start, hitting from deep and grabbling a couple of offensive putbacks — looking like an undeniable force of nature. Jokic moved Noel and Taj Gibson out of the way as if they weren’t there.
“He’s having a terrific season,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s a very talented player. You’re not guarding him individually. You’re guarding him with your team. There’s a lot of things we could’ve done a little bit better.’’