No ‘MotorCade’ in the Garden: Cunningham will sit out Knicks-Pistons game

After two impressive preseason victories, the New York Knicks will head into Wednesday’s game as the overwhelming favorites when they host the Cade Cunningham-less Detroit Pistons.

Cunningham, the No.1 overall pick, has yet to see action for the Pistons in the preseason after suffering a mild ankle injury during the training camp.

Pistons coach Dwayne Casey earlier said there’s no timetable on Cunningham’s return. And it remains that way heading into a preseason matchup against the rampaging Knicks.

“We’re not gonna rush Cade back,” Casey said after Tuesday’s practice. “When he comes back, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to go & throw him out there and see what happens. He’s too valuable for us. Whatever it is, we’ll sit down with his team, the medical team, myself, and Troy (Weaver) & map out a plan.”

The Pistons will be missing seven players, including Killian Hayes, who is out due to concussion protocol. Saddiq Bey (ankle) and Rudy McGruder (hip) are questionable, while Hamidou Diallo is probable.

Without Cunningham, the Pistons have split their first two games.

On the other hand, the Knicks are already in mid-season form. Buoyed up by hot outside shooting, the Knicks have picked up easy wins in their first two preseason assignments with an average 19.5-point margin.

The Knicks are averaging 17.5 made three-pointers, the second-best mark in the preseason behind the Golden State Warriors’ 21.5 per game.

While the other teams in the East are missing their key players due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, the Knicks are relatively healthy.

In addition to the Pistons’ situation, elsewhere around the league, the Boston Celtics are missing Al Horford and Jaylen Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19. Gordon Hayward of the Charlotte Hornets also entered the health and safety protocols. Philadelphia 76ers have yet to resolve the Ben Simmons saga, although the disgruntled star showed up Monday at Wells Fargo Center before the 76ers-Brooklyn Nets preseason game. The Nets have also announced earlier today that they are keeping Kyrie Irving away from the team until he gets the vaccine in accordance with New York’s mandate.

“That’s the beauty of sports,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after Tuesday’s practice. “When you think about it, it’s like you go into a season and you don’t know how it’s going to unfold.”

“Things can change very quickly in this league. They can go from being bad to going really well very quickly and they can do the opposite. So, you could be sailing along smoothly, and then all of a sudden, you can get derailed by one injury. And so, that’s part of sports. The idea is to practice, improve and play your best down the stretch. And then you let the chips fall where they may once you get there.”

Only Mitchell Robinson is listed out for the Knicks. But he’s progressing in his recovery timeline, participating in some contact drills at practice after more than six months since undergoing surgery to repair a fractured foot.

Nerlens Noel, who missed the first two preseason games due to soreness on his right knee, has practiced in the last two days. His status for Wednesday’s game is questionable.

“I think it’s more of a hamstring than knee (issue),” Nerlens Noel said after Tuesday’s practice. “But making sure we tread lightly, making sure there are no setbacks. The most important part of the season is [Games] 1 through 82 so I’m going to lock it in.”

Julius Randle will also be back after skipping the Knicks’ road win in Washington over the weekend after his wife Kendra delivered their second child Friday night.

If Noel remains unavailable, Taj Gibson will again start with rookie Jericho Sims backing him up. The backup bigs were outstanding in their first two outings.

Taj Gibson is norming 11. points and 6.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Sims, who is on a two-way contract, has impressed Thibodeau. The rookie big man out of Texas is averaging 9.5 rebounds (seventh in the league during preseason) and 1.5 steals (fourth among centers) to go with 7.5 points.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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