Knicks’ prayers go unanswered as Nikola Jokic, Nuggets prove too much

DENVER — Josh Hart may want to visit a confessional or reconcile with his higher power, because his prayers went unanswered.

Asked before Thursday’s game how the Knicks could slow down Nikola Jokic, Hart, the affable forward, offered, “Pray.”

Then Jokic dumped an easy triple-double on the Knicks, recording 30 points with 14 rebounds and 11 assists as the Nuggets sent the visitors home with a 113-100 defeat.

The Knicks (41-28), who fell behind the streaking Magic and into fifth in the East, had no answer and were humbled at the end of an otherwise successful road trip.

Not that they didn’t try in the Mile High City.

Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball as New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) guards in the first quarter at Ball Arena. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

As usual, Tom Thibodeau’s squad held on to the rope for as long as possible.

The identity remained intact.

Jalen Brunson had 26 points and nine assists.

Isaiah Hartenstein added 20 points and eight rebounds.

But Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. (31 points, 13-for-16 shooting) were too much.

The Knicks won the minutes Jokic was on the bench, and lost by 29 points in the 38 minutes he played.

Before Jokic’s final substitution into the contest, the Knicks had cut the deficit to two with 8:19 remaining.

The Nuggets (49-21) went on a 7-0 run, and Thibodeau’s team was cooked.

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) controls the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) and forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) defend in the first quarter at Ball Arena. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

The shovel came out after Alec Burks wrapped up Jamal Murray on a Nuggets breakaway, prompting a “take foul” call after a review.

Murray buried the foul shot, then Jokic hit an off-balance and-one layup.

The four-point possession gave the Nuggets a nine-point lead with 5:13 remaining.

The visitors never recovered.

The deck was stacked against the Knicks.

It had the makings of a schedule loss long before tipoff.

They were eager to get home, finishing off a four-game road trip that spanned 10 days.

They had two days off to prepare, but the altitude is a bear for the uninitiated lungs.

Plus, the Nuggets are the defending champs and supposedly motivated after getting smacked by the Knicks in January at MSG.

Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) gets tied up with Denver Nuggets forward Justin Holiday (9) as forward Peyton Watson (8) defends in the second quarter at Ball Arena. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“When you get your ass kicked by a team, they have our full attention,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said 90 minutes before the opening buzzer. “We don’t want to get swept by anybody. Your competitive juices kick in. We remember what happened in the Garden, and we use that to motivate us.”

The Nuggets also have the greatest player in the world, Jokic, who the Knicks understood was going to be a handful.

“He’s just one of those guys you can’t speed up,” Hart said. “You play tough defense, and he throws up some majestic 35-footer and somehow makes it. It’s just one of those guys where it’s tough to slow him down and influence him. Obviously we just have to be physical and have great ball pressure on him.

Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) passes the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game. AP

“Then pray.”

The prayers didn’t work.

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