Backup center Nerlens Noel was a late scratch with a sprained ankle. With Obi Toppin and Omari Spellman still out with leg injuries, that meant the Knicks’ big-man depth was tissue thin.
And it also meant Julius Randle would have to register a marathon amount of minutes. Again.
Randle, already the third-highest in the league in minutes played, logged another 43 minutes in Monday’s win in Atlanta. And he had another scintillating outing — 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists. He was one assist shy of his second triple-double of the season and is on a healthy pace to be considered an All-Star for the first time after coming to camp in superb shape.
“It’s fun I guess,’’ Randle said smiling about the major workload. “But the bigger thing is I’m staying on top of what I need to do to take care of my body. It’s a day-in, day-out process but I just try to stay in the moment.’’
Toppin has been out since after the season opener. Spellman has not made his Knicks debut because of knee soreness and was to be examined Tuesday. That’s why the Noel injury that was not on the injury report could be huge.
“When he warmed up tonight he didn’t feel quite right so we felt it was just better to rest in this situation,’’ Thibodeau said.
Starting center Mitchell Robinson picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter but played through foul trouble. Thibodeau said Noel will be examined Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury that originally occurred in Indiana.
Traveling during the pandemic and following all the NBA protocols seemed like it would be a draining experience. And reports suggest the equipment managers and trainers are indeed at wit’s end.
But the Knicks’ front-loaded road schedule early in this pandemic season has been beneficial, according to Thibodeau.
The Knicks finished their four-game road trip Monday. Five of their first seven games were on the road and 12 of their first 19 are away from the empty Garden.
“In some ways I liked our schedule,’’ Thibodeau said before facing the Hawks. “When you look at it, we played tough teams and spent quite a bit of time on the road. It was almost like going away for training camp. You try to take the positives out of that — with the team meals, the film sessions. Being around each other as much as we are, that’s been very productive for us. Obviously we prefer to be home. It’s a balanced schedule. At some point it will flip.”
The Knicks will return home Wednesday to host the Jazz. The road protocols are severely limiting — right down to players having to handle their own luggage. According to NBA documents obtained by The Post, players can only eat at NBA-approved restaurants on the road and need team-sponsored transportation.
Teams also must enter hotels via a back entrance so as not to intermingle with guests. Draining?
Thibodeau praised team medical director Lisa Callahan, trainer Roger Hinds and assistant trainer Anthony Goenaga for “leading the charge.’’
“Obviously safety has to come first and it is a challenge for everyone,’’ Thibodeau said. “[Equipment manager] Mike Martinez — I don’t know how he does it. But it’s important to follow the protocols. We’re concerned about everything. Hopefully we can be as safe as possible but everything is concerning.”
The Knicks still did not get back injured shooting guard Alec Burks, who missed the entire trip with an ankle sprain. Frank Ntilikina also was a no-go as he missed the whole trip, too, with a sprained knee. Thibodeau indicated Burks figures to be back Wednesday.The Knicks have little depth up front with Toppin out indefinitely. This would’ve been a big opportunity for former Villanova power forward Spellman, who was obtained in a trade in November. Spellman played four minutes in preseason and hasn’t been activated since. The Knicks announced he had a sore knee but it’s known conditioning has been an issue with him. It’s been three weeks since he last played. Asked about his status, Thibodeau said, “He’s making some progress. He’s doing a little bit on the court, he hasn’t really practiced. He’ll be examined by the doctor — Doctor Callahan — when we get back.”
The Knicks announced nine days ago Toppin would be reevaluated in 7-10 days. Thibodeau said he was doing “a little bit’’ of running.