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Slumping Knicks using three days off ‘to get back to being ourselves’

The Knicks have devolved from a team riding high to one trying to avoid a crisis in a matter of a few weeks, with six losses in their past nine games essentially wiping out much of the optimism surrounding their recent nine-game winning streak.

From their suddenly atrocious 3-point defense, especially late in games, to Julius Randle’s recurrent meltdowns to Jalen Brunson’s latest injury uncertainty, the Knicks need to stem the negative plot twists that have threatened to derail what had been shaping up as — and still can be — one of their most promising seasons in recent memory.

There are seven games remaining in the regular season, and the Knicks (42-33) still sit in the fifth playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

But their hold on that spot is far more tenuous at 1 ¹/₂ games ahead of the sixth-place Heat and two clear of the No. 7 Nets for the play-in cutoff.

Isaiah Hartenstein blocks a shot by Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero.

The Knicks know they must make the most of their three days off until their next game, Monday night against the Rockets (the team with the second-worst record in the league through Thursday) at the Garden.

“I think this is just one of those points in the season,” RJ Barrett said after the loss Thursday at Orlando. “We’ve hit it a couple of times. Everybody throughout the league does. We’ve got three days off and during these three days we’ve got to figure out how to get back to being ourselves and play a winning brand of basketball.

“We’re frustrated. We’re trying to win. Every game really matters at this point. We’re fighting for our lives. It’s definitely upsetting when you lose. You’ve got to understand that it does happen and we’ve just got to make sure we fix it sooner rather than later.”

Doing that will be much harder, of course, if the Knicks receive further bad news about Brunson, who did not play Thursday, then was spotted wearing a hard plastic brace on what the team says is a sprained right hand.

The $104 million point guard also had missed five of six games recently with a bruised left foot.

Julius Randle looks for opening against Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter Jr.

Coach Tom Thibodeau used the phrase “out of sorts” to describe his slumping team, and none of the Knicks regulars fit that description more than Randle, just a few games removed from his historic 57-point performance in a home loss Monday to the Timberwolves.

Beginning that night, the All-Star forward has been slapped with technical fouls in three consecutive games, including losses to the Heat and the Magic on Wednesday and Thursday.

Randle also jawed with teammate Immanuel Quickley following his halftime technical Thursday night in Orlando, then declined to address the media afterward.

“Everybody wants to play great. Everybody wants to win. Winning solves everything, really,” Quickley said. “But you know, we didn’t play good enough to win. Got to go back to the drawing board, watch the film, get better and try to get a win against Houston. That’s all we can really focus on right now.

“We’re trying to focus on what’s ahead. We dropped three in a row, you can’t do anything about it now except move onto the next game and try to win that. Try to be better and figure out what we have to do to beat Houston. After that game move onto the next game. Just got to be better.”

The Knicks especially need to improve at the defensive end after they gave up 127.7 points per game during their three-game skid, with their opponents combining to connect on 51.2 percent (43-for-84) on 3-point attempts.

Tom Thibodeau reacts during the Knicks' loss to the Magic on March 23.

The Heat and the Magic combined to hit 13 of 15 from long distance in the fourth quarter of those games.

“I feel like we’re going through just a little bit of a lull,” Quentin Grimes said. “Everybody, every team is gonna go through it. I feel like right now isn’t the best time to go through it, but it’s all good. We can watch film, make adjustments. We have three days off to let our bodies get readjusted again and kind of get refocused.

“I feel like right now it’s just a little lull we’re in, but we definitely can get out of it and get ready for the playoffs.”