Knicks Notes: Will Obi Toppin start with Julius Randle out?
A few notes on the Knicks now that Julius Randle will be sidelined for at least two weeks due to a left ankle sprain:
GAME 1 OF PLAYOFFS UP IN THE AIR
Usually, when a team says a player will be re-evaluated in two weeks, it means that they will need at least a few days after the two-week mark to return to the court. In the best-case scenario, a player gets cleared for contact at the two-week mark and then spends some time scrimmaging. If the player reacts well to the contact in a scrimmage, they will be cleared to play.
So based on the current timeline, it’s fair to assume that Randle will not be available for Game 1 of the Knicks’ first-round series.
The playoffs begin on April 15. Under the current timeline, Randle will be re-evaluated on April 13.
Maybe Randle beats that timeline and gets back on the practice court before April 13. The other factor here is that Randle, presumably, will have to spend time off of his feet to let his ankle heal properly. So he may need some time to regain his conditioning before he gets back on the court.
MORE TIME FOR OBI?
Obi Toppin is averaging 14.4 minutes per game. He should see more minutes now with Randle out. If I’m placing a bet right now, I’d bet that the Knicks keep Toppin in his reserve role and elevate Josh Hart to the starting lineup.
Regardless of how the lineups shake out, Toppin should get more minutes over the final five games of the regular season.
IT WILL TAKE A COMMITTEE
Tom Thibodeau made it clear on Wednesday night that it will take more than one Knick to replace Randle.
“When you have a guy who’s averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds and five assists and doing the things that he’s doing, you’re not replacing him with an individual player,” Thibodeau said. “But what we can do is we can play great defense, we can rebound the ball great, we can take care of the ball. We know if we do those three things great, we can be in position to win. So we gotta make up for him collectively. That was the challenge when Jalen [Brunson] was out, and if Jules misses some time, then next guy get in there.
We have a lot of confidence in Obi, we have a lot of confidence in Josh Hart at the four, and Jericho [Sims] can play the four as well. It’s different but it’s still very effective.”
On Wednesday, the Knicks found a spark with a Barrett-Hart-Isaiah Hartenstein front line.
Those three shared the floor with Quickley and Quentin Grimes for the entire fourth quarter. They held Miami to 16 points in the final 12 minutes.
“Defense was really what won us the game,” Quickley said.
It was the first time the Quickley-Grimes-Hart-Barrett-Hartenstein lineup had played this season. Maybe that’s a lineup Thibodeau turns to more often over the final five regular-season games. Thibodeau also mentioned Sims. The Knicks employed a lineup featuring Sims and Hartenstein for a stretch this season and that lineup rebounded the ball very well. So maybe Thibodeau goes back to that alignment.
They will almost certainly lean more on Quickley for offense and they’ll hope that Brunson gets his rhythm and timing back ASAP.
Also, the Knicks have an open roster spot. Any player that was not on an NBA roster on March 1 is eligible to play in the playoffs if they sign with New York.
STILL NEED TO CLINCH
The Knicks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is one. They need one win or one Miami loss to guarantee that they’ll finish no lower than sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Wednesday’s win over Miami takes on more significance in the wake of the Randle injury.
New York moved four games ahead of the Heat with the win. They also earned the tie-breaker against Miami by winning the season series, 3-1.
The Knicks entered play Thursday two games up in the loss column on the Nets with five games to play. Even if the Knicks finish with the fifth seed, they aren’t guaranteed to face the Cavs. Cleveland is 2.5 games behind Philadelphia with five games remaining.