Slumping Knicks pushing to play their 'best' despite rash of injuries

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Saturday, March 2, 2024

NEW YORK -- After the New York Knicks finished off an injury-filled February at 4-8 with a 110-99 loss to the Golden State Warriorson Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Knicks forward Josh Hart said he and his teammates are doing all they can with what they have available to them.

"I'm not sure what you all expect, or what you all think," Hart said after finishing with 14 points, 18 rebounds and 7 assists in 47 minutes. "We are playing as best as we can with the bodies that we have.

"We're playing our asses off. It's not like we're just sitting there and crying about injuries and laying down. Nah, we're grinding. We're pushing ourselves. And once we get guys back, we're good."

When, exactly, the Knicks will get their guys back remains to be seen. There was one small update Thursday before the game from coach Tom Thibodeau: OG Anunoby, who has been out since Jan. 27 with an elbow issue, has progressed to on-court work.

But even that update came with a caveat: Anunoby still hasn't begun any contact work, meaning his return isn't imminent.

For both Julius Randle, who has also been out since Jan. 27 because of a separated shoulder, and Mitchell Robinson, out since December because of an ankle issue, they haven't even taken that next step in their recoveries.

In the aggregate, all that means for New York, which has lost seven of its past nine games after going 14-2 in January, is that reinforcements aren't coming for a group that has looked tired for some time now under the collective wear and tear of not only those three players having extended absences, butJalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein missing time, too.

Predictably, though, Thibodeau -- who famously says, "Next man up" whenever an injury question arises -- isn't worried about the Knicks being short-handed.

"We're more than capable," Thibodeau said.

When asked about Hart playing 47 minutes, he said, "Obviously, we're short-handed right now, so that's what's required."

And now the Knicks, after their poor February, find themselves in a three-way tie in the loss column with the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and are just one game in the loss column ahead of the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic -- meaning the play-in tournament is now very much in play.

"There's urgency," Hartenstein said, when asked about the standings. "There's urgency every single day."

That urgency hasn't turned to panic. New York still believes it is capable of being the team that ran roughshod across the league in January, before Anunoby and Randle were lost after a win over the Miami Heat and the Knicks dealt with a cascade of absences ever since that have sapped their energy.

"I didn't see anybody talking about the way we were playing before [this losing streak]," Hart said. "Nine in a row, 10 in a row, 15 out of 16. Take four starters, six rotation guys out of any lineup in the league and they're going to struggle.

"I don't care if they're Boston with the best record, or Detroit or Washington with the worst record. If you take that many guys out at the same time you're going to struggle. That wasn't directed at you. That's the reality of it. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks we'll get guys back. We're grinding. We're pushing ourselves as much as we can. Once those guys are back, the benefit of it is we get a fresh OG, a fresh Ju, hopefully a fresh Mitch, to make a run."

In the meantime, New York has to try to hang on. For the next 48 hours, the Knicks will happily get a break from the grind of the 82-game schedule, and the injuries they've been dealing with, before going to Cleveland on Sunday to play the Cavaliers before returning to New York for a four-game slate. That stretch features a trio of potentially pivotal games against the Magic and 76ers (twice).

"We're on to Cleveland, for sure," said Brunson, who had 27 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists Thursday night. "We clearly need to be better. We can definitely learn from our past. We can be upset, pissed off for the rest of today, until we fall asleep. But tomorrow morning, we've got to be focused on the next one.

"Keep our spirits up, keep our confidence up. We all need to work hard individually to be confident. Just come in the next day, be ready to go, just keep trusting each other, just keep chipping away."