WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two starters are out of the Knicks’ rotation, though one could return any day now.
RJ Barrett missed his third straight game due to a migraine on Friday, but was in good spirits ahead of tipoff against the Wizards. He was listed as questionable and scratched from the lineup a half-hour before tip but was all smiles when he arrived on-court at the Capital One Arena, and was laughing his way through the locker room ahead of pregame warmups.
“Looking at him, he looks a lot better,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said ahead of tipoff. “So we’ll see. He was under the weather. Feeling a lot better today.”
Friday’s matchup against the Wizards, however, was the first leg of a road back-to-back, with the second leg coming in Charlotte against the Hornets on Saturday.
Barrett could be in play for an injury return for the second game.
Quentin Grimes, however, was nowhere to be found on Friday.
Thibodeau called Grimes’ injury a bruised hand after the game, and the team ruled him out with a sprained left wrist on Friday. Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo started in place of Barrett and Grimes.
“It’s just a sprain, so we’ll see where he is tomorrow,” Thibodeau said. Asked if Grimes is day-to-day and is expected to play for the remaining two games of the Knicks’ road trip, the coach said: “Yeah, so it’s just a bruise really.”
Thibodeau, however, said he wasn’t sure whether or not Grimes got X-rays done on his hand. Without clarity on scans on his hand, there is no clarity for an injury return timeline.
Grimes is the Knicks’ best perimeter defender who routinely defends the opposing team’s No. 1 scoring option. He is also shooting a career-best 40% from downtown to start the season.
“Next guy get in there, get the job done,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of wings that are more than capable.”
With Grimes out on Friday, he is also likely to miss Saturday’s matchup against the Hornets.
The Knicks wrap their five-game road trip on Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Thibodeau chuckled at the idea that the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament margin of victory format would influence the way he coached blowout games in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t get stuck in all that,” he said with a smile. “I just want to win. So we’re gonna play the right way. That’s the bottom line.”
The Knicks lost their first In-Season Tournament game to the Milwaukee Bucks by five. If they lose a second game, it will be difficult to envision them advancing to a further round.
Thibodeau suggested his team has bigger fish to fry, but thinks the tournament is good for the league.
“I think the interest is good for the fans,” he said. “I think the important thing for us is to understand each and every game counts the same, and to lock into that, so don’t get caught up in all the other stuff, ‘cause when you do that, that’s usually when you get knocked down.”
Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Julius Randle’s ability to operate the pick-and-roll with both smaller and bigger players setting screens creates matchup nightmares.
“He’s a guy, obviously his size and his strength, he has the ability to score on all three levels,” he said ahead of tipoff. “For a power forward to play pick-and-roll the way he does, whether that’s big-big or small-big, it causes some coverage issues at some times, unconventional when smalls are setting for your power forward, but they find that action in the flow [of the offense] and it does cause some issues. You want to minimize the switch and the collateral that causes because it can be very effective in the post.
“He’s another guy that finds a way to get to the line. The use of shot fakes and step-throughs, initiates contact and gets you lifted, so being able to guard a guy in space, minimize the fouls, but then also know that he can get hot from three. So he can do it at all three levels.”