MILWAUKEE — Julius Randle will have to find another reason to go to Las Vegas.
Randle packed an additional set of clothes in anticipation of defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday.
After earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors in the opening week of December, Randle turned in his best game of the season.
Yet against a hot-shooting Bucks squad led by two members of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Randle’s dominant night came in a 146-122 loss to the Bucks on Tuesday.
New York is now 5-7 against teams that are in the playoff hunt and 7-0 against everyone else.
The Knicks have proven they can handle business against lesser opponents. They have yet to show, however, that they’re ready to take the next step, with former NBA legends questioning the Knicks’ roster makeup.
Those legends don’t believe the Knicks have good enough players to be considered among the same ranks as the Bucks and Celtics.
Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith said as much on TNT’s Inside the NBA broadcast. Smith said outright the Knicks don’t have a player better than Orlando Magic star Paolo Banchero, even though both Randle and Jalen Brunson are having better individual seasons.
He said the Knicks always have the second- or third-best player on the floor every game they play.
Barkley pointed to the Knicks’ lack of offseason action in a conference that cemented its power structure with trades for superstar players. The Bucks acquired Lillard over the summer, and the Celtics traded for both Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.
The Knicks’ only addition was Donte DiVincenzo, who comes off the bench.
DiVincenzo entered Tuesday night on a heater from downtown, having made 11 of his 16 attempts from 3 in the two games leading into the tournament quarterfinal. He shot just 1 of 4 from downtown on Tuesday, and after closing the two previous fourth quarters, DiVincenzo watched the final six-plus minutes of regulation from the bench.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo scored 35 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field, Lillard hit five 3s on seven attempts, and the Knicks’ defensive attention on the pair of Bucks stars left the others wide-open.
“The Knicks haven’t added anything new,” Barkley said. “They need to make a trade because Boston, Milwaukee and Philly, they’re on a whole other level in the Eastern Conference. “
Barkley suggested it’s time for the Knicks to make a deal.
“Brunson’s the best player on the team. But they need to do something,” he said. “I hate teams that are mediocre or good solid teams. … You’re not a contender. … What are you saving those draft picks for?”
One takeaway from the Knicks’ loss to a championship-contending Bucks team: Randle has officially arrived.
The two-time Knicks All-Star had a slow start to the season due to offseason ankle surgery but nearly triple-doubled against the Bucks on Tuesday. Randle scored a season-high 41 points to go with six rebounds and five assists, largely operating from what he referred to as his “kill zones” on the floor.
He wouldn’t go into specifics about where on the court those zones are, but Randle did most of his damage on the elbow, where he posted up whichever Bucks defender guarded him — Antetokounmpo — and either finished with the soft touch around the rim or created an open shot for a teammate when the Milwaukee defense collapsed on the play.
When the Bucks defense collapsed, the Knicks shooters couldn’t deliver. New York shot 7 of 23 from downtown. The Bucks made the same number of 3s as the Knicks attempted — 23 — and shot better than 60% from both the field and 3-point range.
Brunson missed all five of his attempts from downtown and finished with 24 points. Josh Hart added 11 off the bench and the Knicks bench combined for 32 points, including three from Miles McBride, who scored when Tom Thibodeau waved the white flag and emptied the bench.
The Knicks must now test their roster against the Celtics, who they have yet to beat this season. It’s clear the Knicks can beat the teams lower on the totem pole, but if they can’t win against the East’s elite, they will never join that exclusive club.