As they prepared for Wednesday’s meeting with the Nets, a game that they admitted even with the close proximity of the franchises wasn’t yet a rivalry, the Knicks brought on reinforcements.
Playing shorthanded because of injuries, unlike the COVID and contact tracing shutdowns facing other teams, the Knicks brought a three-game losing streak into this game at Madison Square Garden. But they upgraded and activated a pair of big men to help - rookie Obi Toppin and veteran Taj Gibson.
Toppin, the No. 8 overall pick, had not played since opening night when he suffered a strained calf muscle. A Brooklyn native, Toppin was hopeful of getting a chance to join in this game. He got an abbreviated opportunity, playing one minute with no points.
"I’m super excited to be back," Toppin said before the game. "I just found out this morning I was cleared to play. Didn’t really get to go through contact yet, a little rusty. But I’m going to be ready for when coach calls my name."
With limited work getting back and skipping the usual steps of building up in practice, Toppin may see limited chances, but then again, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau may need to call on any and all options with the team struggling badly over the last three games. After a 5-3 start to the season the Knicks have fallen to 5-7 and have shown an inability to mount an offense.
Toppin came into the NBA with experience and a ready-made offensive arsenal. And he hopes that the time on the sidelines has helped him ease his adjustment to the pro game.
"We’re going to go step by step," Thibodeau said. "He was cleared basically today. He hasn’t gone through a regular practice yet. Usually there’s a progression to it. If there’s an opportunity to get him in there we will. But we’re not going to rush into this. We’re going to make sure we take all the steps that are necessary for him to be successful."
"It hasn’t been difficult at all. Just like I did in college, I sat out a whole year," Toppin said. "Having an opportunity to sit out, it helped me tremendously because I had a chance to understand what pace I need to play at, what things I need to work on, so knowing what each guy does and basically knowing what I have to do to help the team win. I’ve been learning all of that throughout this process."