The New York Knicks’ bench was a big reason for their latest win.
Friday night, when the Knicks take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, New York’s reserves figure to have to carry even more of the load.
For the first time this season, the Knicks will be without leading scorer Julius Randle against the Thunder.
Randle entered the NBA’s health and safety protocol, the Knicks announced Thursday.
In Wednesday’s 94-85 win at Detroit, Randle struggled for the second consecutive game, making just 2-of-11 from the field, and missing all three of his 3-point tries for a season-low five points.
But the Knicks’ reserves scored 65 points, led by Alec Burks’ 34, to avoid what would’ve been a devastating loss against a woefully short-handed Pistons squad.
“We understand our job,” Burks said. “We understand when the starters don’t have it, it’s a team and we just have to pick the next man up.”
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the win that Randle, who is just 7-of-31 over his last two games, was “nicked up.”
But still, the Knicks come into Friday’s game on a three-game winning streak, the last two on the road to start a four-game road trip.
The Knicks’ rotation had been relatively unscathed by the recent wave of players affected by COVID-19 protocol.
Before Randle entered, New York had just Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims and Wayne Selden — only Noel averaging more than eight minutes per game — in the protocol.
Oklahoma City had avoided issues similarly until recently before five players — Darius Bazley, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — and head coach Mark Daigneault entered the protocol over the last few days. Assistant coach Dave Bliss, who handled coaching duties earlier this season when Daigneault left the team briefly for the birth of his child, is also in protocol, leaving Mike Wilks as the Thunder’s acting head coach.
Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant is also in the protocol, according to the New York Post.
The Thunder could be without its leading scorer Friday as well.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed Wednesday’s 115-97 loss to Phoenix with right ankle soreness. Kenrich Williams, another key player, suffered a sprained ankle in that loss.
The recent transiency of the roster has opened the door for rookie guard Aaron Wiggins, who averaged just 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in 15.4 minutes in his first 13 NBA games while bouncing in and out of the rotation.
Wiggins has started the last four games, and in the last three, he’s averaging 20 points and 6.3 rebounds in more than 32 minutes. He’s also making an impact on the defensive end.
“The pace has slowed down a little bit for me,” Wiggins said. “I’m adjusting to the whole physicality, speed, up-beat tempo of it all.”
Friday’s game is the first of two meetings between the teams this season.
The Knicks and Thunder split their two meetings last season.
New York’s Evan Fournier is listed as questionable after missing Wednesday’s game with right ankle soreness.
–Field Level Media