Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call in the...

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call in the second half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden against the Wizards on Thursday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks arrived in Minnesota Monday afternoon, giving Tom Thibodeau and his staff the opportunity to watch the Timberwolves in action as the shorthanded team faced the Boston Celtics.

What he saw was a team that won, but one of the key pieces — Greg Monroe — arrived in Minnesota just hours before the game after canceled flights and connecting flights and admitted that he didn’t know who the players were who starred beside him. So what he got from the scouting mission is what comes up in most NBA games these days, a chance to watch and wonder who will be on the floor the next day.

For the Knicks, restricted by their own health and safety protocols issues from practicing or holding a normal morning shootaround, the questions were mostly about their own status. Immanuel Quickley was working out on the court in sweatpants before the game, but Thibodeau hinted that he would not be available for the game. Miles McBride was cleared from the health and safety protocols, but also was a question mark.

"The first step is the safety comes first," Thibodeau said. "You follow the protocol given by the league and the team. Each case is different. Each guy gets hit harder than others. They could do some conditioning. No matter what conditioning you’re doing it’s not close to playing in an NBA game.

"When you get him back you want to see what he looks like in practice. And then go from there. There’s going to be some rust. Obviously, you’re not shooting the ball or taking contact on. It doesn’t take much to throw a player out of rhythm. You take it day by day, step by step and do the best you can."

The Knicks have been hit this season by the COVID-19 testing, losing Wayne Selden Tuesday to protocols, the ninth player to be sidelined. But they have not been hit like some teams — including Minnesota, which has lost massive numbers, including key players.

When the Timberwolves beat the Celtics Monday they were without all five of their regular starters. Patrick Beverley returned to action Tuesday, but they were still without Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards — their three leading scorers.

"I think it’s the reality of the NBA today," Thibodeau said. "You go into a game and sometimes you don’t know who they have and you don’t know who you have. With that being said, the guys who are coming in — they’re taking advantage of the opportunities they’re given. You look at the [Timberwolves'] game last night against Boston, they had a number of guys who stepped up and played great basketball. Whether it’s a G League guy, a two-way guy, or it’s a veteran like Monroe. It’s about opportunities for guys who haven’t had opportunities. So we’re getting a look at a lot of guys.

"Your preparation is different today because you have databases on everyone so you try to take advantage of it. But you also don’t know how they’ll fit in a system or be utilized in a system. So you try to get up to speed with your film and your scouting reports and walkthrough. Right now everybody is being real cautious which they should be so just try to prepare as best you can."

The Knicks have managed to keep Julius Randle active, as well as Alec Burks and Mitchell Robinson, along with Kemba Walker who was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week Monday. They have slowly had players return and were missing only Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims and Selden to protocols Tuesday.

"In general, in the league itself there’s constant change," Thibodeau said. "So that’s a challenge. Every year it’s a challenge. It’s new and different. Sometimes you can come back with the same guys and there’s an adjustment because players change.

"And I think whether it’s trades, free agency, draft, there’s always a newness coming in and then the challenge becomes how quickly can everyone get onto the same page. . . . You have minimal practice times so a lot of stuff is being done in ballrooms and walkthroughs and film sessions and that sort of thing. But I think if you have a guy who’s had some experience in the league like Monroe has he can adapt quickly. So there’s an advantage to that."