Knicks expect RJ Barrett to return to lineup after All-Star break

The Knicks played host to the Nets on Wednesday night at the Garden without RJ Barrett, but at least they expect their rising young wing to be ready to go as soon as they come back after the NBA All-Star break this weekend.

“I do. He’s pretty close,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said before the Knicks’ ugly 111-106 loss to the Nets. “We just thought it was better right going to the break.”

Barrett sat out against the Nets and coach Steve Nash, his godfather. It was the fourth straight game he has missed with an ankle sprain. He suffered the injury in the final minute of a Feb. 8 blowout loss to the Nuggets, and hasn’t played since. But now the Knicks have set a timeline and anticipate Barrett’s return on Feb. 25 against the visiting Heat.

Barrett is averaging a career-high 18.0 points in 48 games. He has added 5.7 boards and 2.6 assists.

RJ Barrett signs an autograph for a young Knicks fan during the Knicks’ 111-106 loss to the Nets.
NBAE via Getty Images

Center Nerlens Noel missed a fifth straight game with a sore left foot. Thibodeau didn’t rule out the possibility the injury could nag the 27-year-old for the rest of the season, or even end up requiring surgery.

“Yeah, it’s ongoing so they’re checking that,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully it responds better as we go.”

Thibodeau said the absence of veteran point guard Derrick Rose has impacted Obi Toppin’s production.

“Those guys really complement each other well. You get a speed game, you get multiple ball-handlers, you can play the dribble handoff game into the pick and roll. You can play downhill,” Thibodeau said. “So that group had really good chemistry together. And whether it was Nerlens or Taj [Gibson] or [Mitchell Robinson], the center has always been perfect for that group.”

“When you look at Derrick when he’s on the floor and you look at the plus-minus of the players, he impacts it in a very positive way. And he’s always been that way. Because he gives you the transition game, he gives you the pick and roll game, he can play on the ball, he can play off the ball, so it adds a lot to our team.”

Toppin finished with eight points, four rebounds, one assist and one block in 11 minutes.

But Thibodeau was noncommittal on whether Rose will be ready to return after the break.

“It’s hard to say,” Thibodeau said with a shrug. “He’s doing more and more, so we’ll see what he does over the break and how he feels after that.”

Immanuel Quickley, who has been mired in a deep slump, posted perhaps his best game of the season. The second-year point guard, who was shooting 22.8 percent from the field in his past nine games, went 7-for-10, including 4-for-7 from deep, for 18 points.

Julius Randle on where the Knicks stand at the All-Star break: “It’s tough right now. Ups and downs. We have good moments. We have bad. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I feel like we should be better than what we are right now obviously record-wise, but we’re not. So we can’t dwell on it. Got to keep one foot in front of the other and keep trying to turn it around, keep trying to make it right.”

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