Kevin Knox II of the Knicks goes to the hoop...

Kevin Knox II of the Knicks goes to the hoop during the second quarter against Golden State at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

HOUSTON — The Knicks arrived in Houston already shorthanded and struggling, and they got more bad news Thursday morning when Kevin Knox was placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, pushing the total to four players sidelined by the COVID policy.

Knox joins Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes in the protocols. Knox had been buried deep on the bench but the absence of the other players had given him an opportunity, and the former lottery pick — who had played only 22 minutes in six appearances all season — suddenly was on the floor for 48 minutes in the last two games.

He averaged 13.5 points in those two games and shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc. Now he joins the others in a pause, needing either 10 days from his positive test or two negative tests from samples taken at least 24 hours apart to return to action.

"It’s hard, but at the same time you have to be a pro," Derrick Rose said Tuesday. "You have to do your job and do your best to figure things out, and that’s the process that we’re in right now, trying to figure things out."

The surge in positive tests has hit the NBA hard, and the Knicks hardly are the only team affected or the team most affected. The Chicago Bulls recently had 10 players in the health and safety protocols and the Nets currently have seven in the protocols.

But for the Knicks, with seven losses in their last eight games entering Thursday against the Rockets, what might be as bad as the absence of the four players is that the NBA guidelines for teams suffering these outbreaks has caused them to basically halt work outside of the games.

The Knicks were unable to practice Wednesday and had to cancel the morning shootaround Thursday with the league restricting the ability to gather players together. The requirement is for teams to return lab-based PCR tests in the morning before gathering as a team, and the timing of those tests makes a morning workout or early off-day practice almost impossible.

"The league does a really good job and our medical staff does a great job of making sure we’re following all the guidelines and recommending what we do," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The medical people are involved with it, so safety comes first. The thing for us is whether we’re going to a shootaround at the arena or doing a walkthrough in the ballroom or watching film with restrictions, whatever it is, you have to be good at all those things. That’s part of all this. Whatever the guidelines are, we’re going to follow them and get ready to the best of our abilities."

The Knicks, trying to piece together new lineups and combinations, are left to use socially distanced film sessions and individual workouts instead.

With Toppin and Knox sidelined, the Knicks have very limited options at power forward to back up Julius Randle. Taj Gibson, who did not play Tuesday, might be the best option, and little-used Wayne Selden (one minute of action this season) could see time on the court.

Even the G League option of bringing up Luka Samanic, who is on a two-way contract, is out as he is sidelined with a left foot injury. Jericho Sims, also on a two-way contract, did not travel to Houston, instead practicing with the G League team and playing with them in Delaware on Friday.

"It’s the NBA now," Thibodeau said. "You adapt. That’s what it’s all about, how quickly you adapt. Sometimes it’s injuries. Sometimes it’s COVID. We’ve dealing with it for a while now. Whatever our circumstances are, find a way to rise above it. It’s our reality. I think it’s the world’s reality. It’s what we’re all dealing with. We take every precaution. Follow the guidelines. Do the best we can.

"We’re talking to the players and they’re well aware about taking every precaution, being extra careful right now. I think everyone anticipated with Thanksgiving and now Christmas coming that there’s a lot of travel, a lot of moving around. Just be aware of what’s going on in the country and in the world, for that matter. So take every precaution."


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