The New York Knicks started the week on Cloud 9. Now, a cloud of uncertainty hovers above them this weekend as they brace for life without their starting point guard Jalen Brunson.
Brunson re-aggravated his left foot injury that sidelined him for two games before their road loss in Sacramento two nights ago. The Knicks officially listed him out for their crucial match against the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night, the first of a back-to-back slate against the Los Angeles teams.
While the Knicks kept mum on the severity of Brunson’s injury, it’s more likely he’s out for the remainder of this West Coast trip. After the surging Lakers on Sunday, they will wrap up this four-game road trip Tuesday in Portland with a vengeful Cam Reddish waiting for them.
The Knicks are 3-3 without Brunson this season.
“Let [Knicks medical team] do their job,” Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday night’s loss to the Kings. “You got to trust them. Trust Jalen. They’ll evaluate him. Whatever he needs, we make sure he gets.”
Was it a case of too soon?
The Knicks have to save Brunson from himself.
Brunson has been adamant with his warrior mentality: “if I can walk, I can play.” So, he returned after testing his left foot during warmups of a nationally televised game and a marquee matchup against this season’s Clutch leader De’Aaron Fox.
Brunson outplayed Fox in the first half with 19 points on a 6 of 12 shooting, but the Knicks dug a 16-point hole while he limped to the locker room with a visible pain. He never returned and Fox did what he does best all season— scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter with spectacular plays during clutch time.
Fox and Brunson were neck-and-neck in the Clutch Player Ladder before the Knicks point guard went down again with the same left foot injury.
Now the Knicks, losers of their last two games, must come together and rally around their fallen backcourt leader to keep them from falling in the standings.
The Brooklyn Nets are threatening to dislodge them following a big win in Minnesota Friday night. The Knicks’ lead for the fifth seed have sliced to a half-game going into Saturday night’s matchup against the Clippers, who are starting to figure out things with buyout market acquisition Russell Westbrook.
The Clippers have won their last two games. It could have been a three-game winning streak if they didn’t choke against the Kings.
If there’s anything tilting to the Knicks’ favor is their remaining schedule is the eighth-easiest in the league, per Tankathon. In contrast, the Nets have the 13th toughest schedule left.
But this road trip and the next three games after — two at home against Western Conference playoff contenders Denver Nuggets and Minesota Timberwolves — and a potential season series clincher against the Heat in Miami is the gauntlet of their remaining schedule.
After riding high on their ascent in the standings, now they’re being confronted with a tough choice: lock a more favorable seeding with a hobbling Brunson or preserve him for the postseason run even if it there’s a greater risk of starting an uphill climb from the play-in tournament.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo