Latest on OG Anunoby, Julius Randle injuries including Knicks' approach and mindset

Two weeks ago, the Knicks were perilously close to the NBA Play-In Tournament. A home loss to the Hawks left them just 1.5 games ahead of seventh-seeded Miami.

They’ll wake up on Wednesday with a clear path to the No. 3 seed.

Thanks to their strong play out west, the Knicks are just two games out of third place entering play Wednesday. They trail a Cavaliers team that will be without Donovan Mitchell for at least a week.

“Whether it’s Boston or the Bucks, (the Knicks) will be a tough out in the second round,” a Western Conference exec said after New York’s win at Golden State.

The executive was assuming that the Knicks would be fully healthy for the postseason. That’s still a fair assumption at this point, but there is cause for concern around OG Anunoby.

Tom Thibodeau told reporters Monday that Anunoby’s surgically repaired right elbow flared up after the Sacramento game. Thibodeau said Anunoby returned to New York for an MRI, which came back clean.

Earlier Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Anunoby is expected to miss the Knicks’ game Thursday against Denver due to the elbow flare-up. Wojnarowski said Anunoby’s return is "uncertain."

After playing Denver on Thursday, the Knicks return home to play Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon.

The approach to Anunoby’s current ailment will be a conservative one, per people briefed on the matter. The team will not rush Anunoby back, but it’s worth noting that the irritation in his elbow has shown improvement since Monday, people briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.

Anunoby underwent surgery on Feb. 8 to repair a lingering issue in his right elbow. He returned last Tuesday but was playing in clear discomfort during the Knicks' win at Portland on Thursday. He was listed as questionable for the Knicks’ game on Saturday at Sacramento, ultimately suiting up and playing 33 minutes.

After the win against the Kings, Anunoby returned to New York for an MRI.

The timetable for both Anunoby and Julius Randle is uncertain.

Jan 20, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau talks to forward Julius Randle (30) during the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden.

As SNY reported last week, there was some internal concern regarding the idea that Randle hadn’t yet been cleared for contact. As of the Kings game, Randle still hadn’t been cleared to take full contact. It’s unclear if he’s been cleared for contact in the ensuing days.

Randle has been able to do everything else on the court as he tries to play through a shoulder dislocation.

Three people I spoke to who are familiar with the situation expressed confidence that Randle would ultimately return to the court. He has been sidelined since late January with a shoulder ailment.

So the Knicks may be without the combination of Anunoby and Randle for at least a few more games here. Their strength of schedule for the rest of the year is 14th, per Tankathon. Cleveland’s remaining strength of schedule is 17th.

The Cavs will obviously have to navigate life without Mitchell for two games against Miami, one against Minnesota and one against Charlotte. The Knicks face Denver, Brooklyn and Detroit in that span, a pivotal one in the race for third place in the East.