Julius Randle heard a fair amount of boos during pregame introductions, and the Knicks couldn’t keep the late-season good times rolling amid rumblings of their highest-paid player’s unhappiness in New York.
Randle scored 21 points with seven assists, but the Knicks couldn’t fully erase a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter as their season-best winning streak was halted at four games in a 125-114 loss Wednesday to the play-in bound Hornets at the Garden.
The loss dropped the Knicks’ tragic number for elimination from play-in contention to two with five games remaining, pending the final result of the No. 10 Hawks’ game in Oklahoma City.
Evan Fournier scored a team-best 30 and RJ Barrett added 25 for the Knicks (34-43). Miles Bridges netted a game-high 31 points and All-Star guard LaMelo Ball recorded 20 points with 15 assists for No. 9 Charlotte (40-37).
The Knicks trailed 95-83 with 10:31 remaining, but a dunk by Barrett and a converted three-point play by Immanuel Quickley (16 points) pulled them within two with just under six minutes to go. But a windmill slam and a corner 3 by Bridges extended the Charlotte cushion back to 11 in the closing minutes.
Randle’s intermittent frustration and unhappiness has been evidenced by various instances this season, including a thumbs-down gesture and profane quotes directed at fans and multiple blowups with officials.
This year has been a far cry from the two-way love affair Randle enjoyed with New York one season ago, when he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and the NBA’s Most Improved Player, earning him a four- year contract extension worth $117 million.
The Post reported Wednesday that there are some around the league who believe that Randle has been acting in a “James Harden type of way,” suggesting that he could attempt to force a trade in the offseason.
But Tom Thibodeau was incredulous when asked about a further claim by a local radio host this week — which was couched as an “unconfirmed rumor” — that Randle already had expressed that he wanted out following Monday’s victory over Chicago at the Garden.
“Are you serious? Are you serious? Come on,” Thibodeau said before the game. “You know I’m not going to respond to something like that anyway. Let’s be real.”
Asked directly if he believes that Randle “wants to be here,” Thibodeau replied: “Yeah. So as a coach, you coach the players that you have. And you love them all. And I do. If you play for me, I love you. It’s really that simple. The challenge for us is to bring the best out of each other.”
Randle has been fined over $100,000 by the league this season for various infractions, including for saying “shut the f-ck up” in a January press conference to explain his use of a thumbs-down gesture to booing fans at one game at the Garden .
Randle also threw the ball away and walked directly into the locker room following Monday’s win. He scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting in that game, and fans had chanted once again for understudy Obi Toppin.
“Look, every year is different. …Things change all the time. They can change from going real good to bad quickly and they can go from being not as good as you would like to great real quick, too,” Thibodeau said. “Just keep going. I think it goes with the turf. You’re going to get a lot of credit. You’re going to get a lot of blame. That’s the way it works here. Stay focused, come in the next day and just keep working.”
Following the pregame boos, Randle seemingly got the home crowd back on his side by nailing two early 3-pointers, and the Knicks shot 61.9 percent from the floor in trailing 31-29 through one quarter.
Barrett finished the first half with 17 to keep the Knicks within three, 58-55 at intermission. Randle knocked two more triples in the third, but the Hornets closed the quarter on a 9-3 spurt to lead by eight entering the final quarter.