ORLANDO, Fla. – If Julius Randle continues to blow his stack this often, the Knicks just might blow what’s left of their suddenly precarious lead on a playoff position.
The All-Star forward argued with officials and teammate Immanuel Quickley at the end of the first half, and despite a furious rally by the Knicks from a 19-point deficit to tie the score, they dropped their third consecutive game Thursday night, 111-106, to the Magic at Amway Center.
In his latest outburst this month, Randle was assessed a technical foul for a third straight game at the halftime horn by referee Leon Wood.
He was pulled away from the argument by Quickley, and the two teammates jawed with each other for several seconds on the way to the locker room.
The All-Star forward had netted a career-high 57 points — tied for the third-highest single-game total in team history — in a home loss Monday against the Timberwolves.
But Randle followed that up by shooting 7-for-16 and scoring 15 points, albeit with nine assists, in Wednesday’s loss in Miami.
He finished Thursday’s loss with 23 points, but he missed 13 of 20 from the field and seven of nine from 3-point range.
Quentin Grimes had his second straight strong game with five made 3-pointers and 25 points, and Quickley also netted 25 while starting in place Jalen Brunson, who was a late scratch due to a sprained right hand suffered against the Heat.
The fifth-place Knicks’ lead has dwindled to 1 ½ games over the Heat and the Nets, pending the latter’s result later Thursday night against the Cavaliers.
The Knicks (42-33) had been torched for an average of 133.5 points in their previous two losses, with the Timberwolves and the Heat combining to connect on 59.2 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 30 of 52 makes (57.7 percent) from 3-point range.
Rookie Paulo Banchero scored 21 points and Cole Anthony contributed 18 for the Magic (31-43)
The Magic started out missing nine of their first 13 shots, but they still led 24-22 after one quarter on Banchero’s inside bucket at the buzzer.
Randle and RJ Barrett (3-for-12, 10 points) combined to miss 10 of 12 shots in the period, but Grimes sank his first two 3-point attempts and scored 10 to keep the Knicks close.
Mo Wagner and Franz Wagner combined with Caleb Houston for 14 points in a 19-2 Magic run in the second quarter to widen the Knicks’ deficit to 19.
Grimes and Quickley drained subsequent 3-pointers and Randle threw down an emphatic dunk as the Knicks drew within 53-45 at intermission.
Randle appeared to be fouled on another driving basket late in the second, but he didn’t get the call and argued with Wood after the horn sounded.
Randle has talked often this season about being in a better frame of mind and a desire to cut down on his tech total after a trying season in 2021-22.
But he also had thrown a tantrum during a March 11 loss in Los Angeles to the Clippers, and he needed to be physically restrained in that game by Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. Randle now has 11 technical fouls for the season, one less than he received one year ago.
Franz Wagner (16 points) sank the technical free throw before the start of the third, and the Magic opened the second half with a 16-5 spurt for a 19-point advantage.
But Grimes netted five consecutive points and then fed Isaiah Hartenstein for a dunk as the Knicks climbed back within eight.
Randle also found Grimes for another 3-pointer and a 71-64 game with four minutes left in the quarter.
Grimes had 12 in the quarter and Quickley added nine, including two free throws to tie the score, 75-75, one possession after Randle had nailed a corner trey for his first points of the period.
The Magic regained the lead in the fourth and went up by eight on Franz Wagner’s breakaway dunk off a turnover by Barrett.
Randle’s three-point play closed the gap to two with four minutes remaining, but Gary Harris, Wendell Carter Jr., Banchero and Anthony all connected from beyond the arc for a 107-99 game with 1:01 to go.