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Knicks Notes: How Isaiah Hartenstein is playing through injury, Josh Hart's big minutes

OG Anunoby is practicing with no limitations. He’s scrimmaging five-on-five, and taking contact. There is one more hurdle to clear before he returns to the court: a sign-off from the Knicks’ medical staff.

“See how he responds the next day (after a practice), the doctor clears him, then he can go,” Tom Thibodeau said before the Knicks’ win over the Magic on Friday night.

Anunoby’s return would be a major development, same goes for Julius Randle. But the Anunoby update may have been the second-most important injury news on Friday night.

Isaiah Hartenstein had three blocks – one of them at the rim against Paolo Banchero – and helped frustrate Orlando on Friday night.

“Isaiah’s defense to start the game was top of the line,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks held Orlando to 74 points – the lowest point total of the NBA season. “That’s as active as he’s been in quite a while so it was great to see.”

Hartenstein has been playing through Achilles soreness for much of the season. The ailment forced him to miss five games over a three-week stretch. After the All-Star break, Hartenstein has been on a "ramp-up" plan designed by the Knicks to ensure that he’s ready to play significant minutes in the playoffs.

Hartenstein seems confident in the plan. And based on what you saw on Friday, it seems like the plan is starting to pay dividends.

The Knicks obviously need Hartenstein to play at a high level with Mitchell Robinson out. Precious Achuiwa has been fantastic at power forward (15 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks vs. Orlando), but if Hartenstein is hurting in the postseason and Robinson is on a minutes limit, the Knicks would need Achuiwa and Jericho Sims to carry them at center.

That scenario seems less likely after Hartenstein’s play on Friday night.

ORLANDO TOUGH

Josh Hart joked around after the game about his motivation to beat the Magic. During the game, Hart was all business. He had 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists in 42 minutes on Friday.

If the Knicks navigate through this stretch of injuries and play well in the postseason, Hart’s play over the past few weeks shouldn’t go overlooked. He’s played at least 40 minutes in the past seven games and is averaging 40 minutes per game since Randle’s injury.

He’s taking on those minutes while playing through/managing inflammation in his left knee.

Hart was everywhere against Orlando. He put an exclamation point on the win with a remarkable put-back dunk in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks beat the Magic for the first time this season.

If this iteration of the Knicks turns into a perennial contender, they’ll probably have to deal with the Magic regularly. Orlando has young talent (Banchero, Franz Wagner), a young roster (11 players younger than 26) and are well-coached by Jamahl Mosely.

Orlando projects to have at least $30 million in cap space in the 2024 offseason. It will be interesting to see how they use the space to improve the roster.

Perhaps worth noting: Orlando had some interest in trading for Golden State’s Klay Thompson prior to this trade deadline, per people familiar with the matter. Thompson, of course, will be a free agent in the offseason.