Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo looks on against the Indiana Pacers...

Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo looks on against the Indiana Pacers in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

PHILADELPHIA — The Knicks ended the pre-All-Star break segment to the season in a depleted state that tested Tom Thibodeau’s mantra of “Next man up,” with the team missing six of their top eight players and in desperate need of a moment to heal.

And while still far from completely healthy, the Knicks resumed their season Thursday night halfway there, welcoming back three of the six missing pieces, enough to look ahead to the finish line with a vision of what they can be.

“Everything pre-All-Star, obviously is important and big,” Josh Hart said. “But these next 27 games — this is when it really starts, really begins. That’s all you got to focus on. And I think the biggest thing last year, at this point I was on a different team that wasn’t going to make the playoffs. So it’s cool to see the preparation last year. Now I’m kind of understanding that aspect a little bit more, and focusing on that 27 games and making sure that as a team, and individually, got to be clicking on all cylinders.”

Although Thibodeau tries to not look beyond the task at hand, the Knicks are hoping to find their form ahead of the postseason. With Donte DiVincenzo, Isaiah Hartenstein and Bojan Bogdanovic back in the rotation Thursday night against the 76ers it was a start, but the Knicks are still waiting on Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson to complete their rehabilitation and complete the roster.

With a 33-22 record before the break, the Knicks have positioned themselves as — well, let Hart tell you.

“Where do I see us right now?” Hart said. “The fourth seed, That’s where we are.”

So by the end of the season? With the Sixers missing Joel Embiid, the Bucks having already fired their coach and facing questions about dysfunction, where can the Knicks take this season?

“Take it day by day,” Hart said. “Obviously by the end of that you want to be highest seed possible. So there’s going to be lucky breaks, unlucky breaks for teams. At the end of the day we just got to figure out what we do well and at this point in the season, you want to be playing your best basketball. And if guys [on other teams] are out that benefits us in terms of us trying to get a higher seed. But we can’t control it. We have no idea when Joel is coming back. The Bucks can come back and be undefeated with Doc [Rivers]. You just really don’t know. That’s why you have to focus on your own self.”

For the Knicks, the focus has to be on when they can bring all of the pieces together. Randle has met all of the markers on his rehab from a dislocated right shoulder but did put a cautionary note on his return, conceding that if he has a setback surgery remains a possibility.

“You would like to have the whole unit together as much as possible,” DiVincenzo said. “But in the grand scheme of things as long as you’re going into the last little bit of the season with everybody going into playoffs, that’s when you want to be playing your best basketball. You don’t want to be playing your best basketball in December. You want to be playing it going into April.

“So I think, first and foremost, we want to get everybody healthy. However long that takes I think we have enough people on the team to ride that wave. Then once we get everybody back — like I said, it doesn’t feel as depleted right now — so once we get those guys back it’s just going to take us to a whole 'other level. It doesn’t matter how many games we get in as long as we go into the playoffs feeling that mental side of confidence.”

The Knicks have raised hopes and expectations, a level that even the four-game losing streak heading into the break hasn't dimmed.

“For sure, you think about like I said, we weren’t playing our best basketball in January, but we were playing damn good basketball,” DiVincenzo said. “I think going into the homestretch of the season who we have available has to take that to another level and then once we get those guys back they have to take us to another level. To get where we were in January is going to be one thing, but I think like I said we have another level to get to. Everybody’s confident we can get there going into the playoffs.”

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months