Nerlens Noel of the Knicks controls the ball during the second quarter...

Nerlens Noel of the Knicks controls the ball during the second quarter against the Pistons at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

PORTLAND, Ore. — RJ Barrett was sidelined for a second straight game with a sprained left ankle. And while he may be the more important missing piece to the lineup, the nagging problem for the Knicks is the absence of Nerlens Noel.

Barrett has been in a walking boot much of the time since he injured himself in the final minute of Tuesday’s loss in Denver, although he was walking gingerly without the boot before Saturday’s game on his way to receive treatment.

"I think he’s just day to day," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if Barrett could be sidelined through the All-Star break with two home games coming up this week. "Usually it’s just pretty standard to have the boot on to get the swelling out."

But not so simple to resolve is Noel and his sore left knee. He missed all four preseason games and then started the season off by sitting out the first seven games. It has never gotten completely better and he’s been stopped and started repeatedly, playing in just 25 of the 57 games this season. Saturday marked the third straight game he has sat out.

"Whatever the medical people are recommending that’s what we’ll follow," Thibodeau said. "So it’s part of the game. You just deal with it."

Thibs' rest time

Thibodeau will not attend the NBA’s All-Star Weekend with the only player representing the team being Obi Toppin in the Slam Dunk Competition. Asked if he will watch, he didn’t hide his feelings.

"Uh, no. I like Saturday night. That’s my night," Thibodeau said. "To me, it’s really for the fans. And so, that part is great. The players, certainly, it’s an honor to be there, so you’re happy for them. The main thing is get out there, have some fun and no one get hurt. But I think Saturday night is real competition. They’re really trying, and I love competition. So for me, that’s what I enjoy and hopefully we will have players down the road that are in it. I’ll be rooting for Obi. And then that’s about it.

"[I’ll watch] only because Obi is in it, so I want to support him, but that thing has changed, too. But I love the three-point shooting contest. That, to me, is my favorite. So, everyone has something they enjoy. It’s really for the fans."