NEW YORK — That was easy.
The Knicks needed a blowout victory over the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets for optimal positioning to advance on the final day of the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament.
After two landslide victories over the Hornets earlier in the season, the Knicks notched a third on Tuesday, with a 115-92 win that moved them to a 3-1 record in group stage play.
As of the final buzzer, the Knicks have clinched either the wild card spot or one of the top three Eastern Conference spots that determine the teams advancing to the next round.
A final determination will be made when all teams complete their games on Tuesday.
And without All-Star guard LaMelo Ball— the engine powering a high-octane Hornets offense — Charlotte was outclassed from the opening tip.
Ball averaged 33 points through the first two meetings between the Knicks and Hornets but is out an extended period of time due to an ankle injury.
Without him, the Hornets, who have one of the four-worst records in the Eastern Conference, didn’t reach the 80-point mark until midway through the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Knicks handled business like a team that knew $500,000 was on the line. That amount — a half-a-million smackaroos — goes to each of the players on the team that wins the first-ever NBA Cup, an addition to the regular season mirroring the FIBA World Cup format.
While RJ Barrett was mic’d up, Julius Randle told his teammates they need to run the points up
“[The In-Season Tournament] was fun. It makes the game more competitive,” Randle said on the walk-off interview. “It keeps you engaged. So shoutouts to the league for coming up with this.”
The Knicks came out like a team hungry for the extra cash and took a 29-13 first-quarter lead thanks to Julius Randle, who put a shoulder into any available opposing chest and faded away all night long.
Randle may have triple-doubled had his teammates connected on the body-contorting passes he made after the Hornets’ defense collapsed on his drives to the rim. He finished with only three dimes to go with 23 points and 15 rebounds on the night.
And after complaining about feeling left out of the offense, backup forward Josh Hart scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. He shot two-of-three from downtown — a welcome sight from a player who shot 52 percent with the Knicks last season but got off to a 29 percent start from downtown last season.
Hornets rookie Brandon Miller led his team with 18 points, and Terry Rozier scored 11 on 16 shot attempts. Charlotte cut the Knicks’ double-digit lead down to just one in the third quarter before the Knicks blew the game wide open again.
“I think we got into the paint and passed the ball sprayed the ball,” Randle said. “We just started making the right plays.”
Immanuel Quickley also scored 23 points off the bench, including a flurry of fourth-quarter buckets that padded the Knicks’ point differential.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Quickley missed a step-back three late in the fourth quarter, and Mitchell Robinson palmed the miss midair with one hand and flushed it down with two. Josh Hart couldn’t believe what he saw and looked at the Jumbotron with his hands on his head for confirmation. The Garden crowd erupted, and the Hornets immediately called a timeout.
Hart also fell into Knicks owner James Dolan, who was sitting in his usual baseline seat on Tuesday.
The Knicks face a back-to-back: at home against the Detroit Pistons, then on the road against the Toronto Raptors.