Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket against Trail Blazers...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket against Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson, top, during the first half of an NBA game in Portland, Ore., on Thursday. Credit: AP/Steve Dykes


Less than an hour before the game against the Kings, OG Anunoby was in a back room, meeting with members of the Knicks’ training and medical staff and getting the go-ahead to play. Pain had hampered him in Thursday’s game and led to his being listed as questionable for Saturday night.

The uncertain status is a condition the Knicks have become accustomed to while navigating their way through injury troubles. After beating Sacramento, 98-91, to move to 40-27, they remain the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

But like the status of Anunoby, who returned Tuesday after spending nearly six weeks on the sideline because of elbow surgery, it is all very fragile for the Knicks. They have managed to remain afloat through all of the absences, but at their best, they have shown that maybe they can be something more — if they can ever get the entire squad together.

“Yeah, you see it,” Josh Hart said. “Every now and then, I go down Knicks Twitter and they’re always popping with what people are saying. At the end of the day, we can’t listen to it. A lot of [experts] are saying these guys can make the Eastern Conference finals, do this, do that, but only if they’re healthy. Only if they have Julius [Randle], only if they have Mitch [Robinson] or whatever it is.

“Right now we don’t have those guys. We don’t know when those guys are going to come back. So we can’t think of it like, ‘Oh, let’s just keep it afloat.’ I think it’s like we’ve got to take care of our business that’s in front of us. And if they get back before the end of the year, perfect. If they don’t, we’ll rock it with the guys we have and we have the confidence.”

The Knicks have yet to have the combination of what would be the expected starting lineup — Randle, Robinson, Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson — on the floor together for a single moment. When they had Randle and Anunoby together in January with Brunson, DiVincenzo, Isaiah Hartenstein and then Hart off the bench, they roared to a 12-2 record. But with the uncertain status of these injured pieces, it could all fall apart at any moment.

The Knicks were 8-10 without Anunoby and Randle before Tuesday, and the grouping in the Eastern Conference race for playoff positioning remains tight. And as much as the Knicks may be building, there are no assurances for the future. There is no certainty that this group will be back together or healthy next season.

Even looking across the court at the Kings, the Knicks could see that year to year, it’s so hard to maintain growth. Last season the Kings finished third in the Western Conference, were first in offensive rating in the league and seemed to be on the rise. They entered Saturday’s game at 38-27, in sixth place and trying to avoid a play-in game.

“You don’t get those opportunities often,” Hart said. “This is my seventh year in the league and hopefully this is going to be my second year in the playoffs. You don’t want to waste any of those opportunities because they don’t come around often.”

Tom Thibodeau doesn’t think about saving a player for later in the season or limiting minutes, other than a directive from the medical staff. But he and the Knicks have had to give in to the reality that they are hoping to be whole but have to do it carefully.

“There is [a need to manage injuries] with all the players,” Thibodeau said. “I think this time of the year, you wanna make sure he’s good. Guys are gonna be nicked up. That’s part of this. And you have to get through those things, but obviously if a guy is injured, he’s not gonna be out there. But if he’s got soreness and pain, he can get through those things. And then just keep going.”

But there are no assurances. Anunoby should be able to play on, with the surgical procedure to remove a loose bone fragment from his right elbow solving the major problem. However, his issues on Thursday, when he played through pain, reveal what medical experts note — that rest might be more important than anything else in recovery.

Randle still has no return timetable as he works his way through rehab on his dislocated shoulder; surgery has not been ruled out if he encounters a setback. Robinson has been sidelined since early December and also has no return date stamped.

For now, they have held it together with Brunson carrying the offensive load, Hart hustling all over the floor to exhaustion and contributions coming from unlikely places up and down the roster. But all of the hopes and expectations remain tempered by the simple disclaimer — if they are healthy and whole.


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