Isaiah Hartenstein of the Knicks commits an offensive foul against Draymond...

Isaiah Hartenstein of the Knicks commits an offensive foul against Draymond Green of Golden State during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was something of a cost-benefit analysis for Isaiah Hartenstein.

On one hand, he had been battling lingering Achilles soreness. On the other, the Knicks were going to be shorthanded against Golden State with Julius Randle (dislocated shoulder), OG Anunoby (elbow surgery) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle surgery) out with injuries and others also hurting.

As Hartenstein mulled his options, he kept coming back to one overarching realization: The Knicks need him in the lineup.

“I probably [could have] sat out a couple more weeks, but to me, I think we found a perfect medium where we’re ramping it up at a good time,” Hartenstein said after the Knicks’ 110-99 loss to Golden State at the Garden on Thursday night. “[I] just want to be here for the team.”

And the Knicks do need him in the lineup, beginning with Sunday night’s game in Cleveland against a team that has 6-11 Evan Mobley and 6-9 Jarrett Allen comprising two-thirds of its starting frontcourt.

Mobley and Allen are having productive seasons for the second-in-the-Eastern Conference Cavaliers. Mobley is averaging 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and Allen, a one-time Net, is contributing 15.7 points and 10.5 rebounds.

As a team, the Cavaliers are seventh in the league in total rebounds (44.8 per game), fifth in defensive rebounding (34.5 per game) and tied for 12th in offensive rebounding (10.4 per game).

All of which may have roots in last spring’s first-round playoff series. One of the foremost reasons the Knicks eliminated Cleveland in five games was that they outrebounded the Cavaliers by eight per game (45.4 to 37.2).

“The one advantage that we have is the rebounding component,” Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday night’s loss. “Because when you're playing big, that's what you get. That's where your advantage is, the offensive rebounding.”

Which is a reasonable point. But against Cleveland last spring, the Knicks had Robinson and Randle – who was playing through an ankle injury – to counteract Mobley and Allen. Entering Sunday’s game, Hartenstein will be aided by 6-8 Precious Achiuwa and 6-4 Josh Hart up front.

“We are playing as best as we can with the bodies that we have,” Hart said Thursday after the Knicks lost for the seventh time in the last nine games.  “We have guys like OG, [Randle], Mitch, [who have] been out for a long time. You have [Jalen Brunson and] Isaiah out of the lineup . . . Take four starters, six rotation guys out of any lineup in the league, they’re going to struggle. I don’t care if they’re Boston with the best record or Detroit or Washington with the worst record. If you take that many guys out at the same time, you’re going to struggle.”

So that is the situation in which the Knicks (35-25) find themselves, but the injuries have afforded increased opportunities for the remaining roster players.

Take Hartenstein, for example.

He has played in 54 games this season and is averaging 6.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game. But in the 28 games he has started, Hartenstein’s points (7.8), rebounds (10.4) and minutes (29.9) have increased, and the Knicks are 18-10 with him in the starting lineup.

“There’s urgency,” he said. “There’s urgency every single day. I feel like that was the main thing of [my] wanting to come back. Just to make sure I’m here for my team. I think that was the main [reason] why I felt like I needed to come and just help the team out.”

Notes & quotes: The Knicks will sign Shake Milton, who accepted a buyout from the Pistons, when he clears waivers, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. 
 

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