In the aftermath of their first loss in nearly three weeks, the Knicks tried to both shrug it off and understand their health is an issue that can no longer be glossed over.
Three would-be starters — Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson — have all missed at least four games in a row.
Quentin Grimes, another part of the top-8 in the rotation, sat the past two with a sprained knee.
The domino effect has been way more minutes for players unaccustomed to such a load, plus an extra focus from the opposition — especially the Lakers — on Jalen Brunson.
“We’re missing [Anunoby]. We’re missing his ability defensively, able to knock down shots,” Josh Hart said. “We’re missing [Randle], an All-Star for a very good reason, 25 [points] and nine [rebounds] every night. Quentin’s ability to space the floor.
“I don’t think we’re missing just one guy. We’re missing three big guys, and obviously, Mitch has been out for months. But you know, when you’re missing four key players, three of which are starters, it’s always tough.”
The good news on Anunoby and Grimes is that they’re considered “day-to-day,” according to Tom Thibodeau, although neither has spoken to the media since sustaining their respective injuries.
Grimes’ knock was obvious.
He planted his right foot while trying to guard Utah’s Collin Sexton on Tuesday and was in clear pain after his ankle turned and knee buckled.
Grimes returned in that contest but then joined the injury report with a semi-optimistic update Saturday from Thibodeau that the guard “is doing a little more.”
Anunoby is more of a mystery.
He had been wearing kinesio tape on his shooting elbow during games, but didn’t feel comfortable while warming up last week in Charlotte and became a late scratch.
He hasn’t played since because of elbow inflammation.
“When he’s healthy enough, and he feels comfortable and he can trust his body, he’ll be out there,” Thibodeau said, a standard answer from the coach that often means it’s a pain tolerance issue and up to the player.
Anunoby has never been very durable or committed to playing every game like, for instance, Julius Randle.
He hasn’t logged 70 games in a season since his rookie campaign in 2017-18.
The Knicks certainly missed his presence Saturday while having their nine-game winning streak snapped.
Anunoby would have been guarding LeBron James.
Instead, the task went to Hart and Precious Achiuwa, who each logged 42 minutes.
Hart, who played in the summer for Team USA and entered training camp already tired, is feeling the effects.
He’s a valuable glue guy in the lineup, but his shot has been unreliable at just 30.2 percent from beyond the arc — including a 5-for-16 night overall from the field on Saturday.
He’s averaging a team-high 38.7 minutes in the past five games.
“This season — honestly, it’s been a trial-and-error kind of thing,” Hart said. “Just going into the season felt already tired, so I’m just trying to battle, trying to get the extra work in, trying to recover, trying to do those kind of things and it’s been up and down, up and down.
“I’ve been struggling to shoot the ball. Maybe at this point I’ve got to focus on getting more reps, hopefully my body can take it. If not, it is what it is. I’ve just got to focus on being in the moment. Even if I’m playing 40 [minutes], try to put extra work in and hope the body keeps up and lets me finish the season.”
It wasn’t just Hart misfiring on Saturday.
As the Lakers executed a game plan of blitzing Brunson, the rest of the Knicks made just 26 field goals on 69 attempts (37 percent).
Many of the misses were makeable.
That was the biggest reason the Knicks were able to shrug off the defeat, rather than let it simmer.
Isaiah Hartenstein, for instance, flubbed a couple of lay-ups and shot just 2-for-9.
“We were just missing shots,” Hartenstein said. “Top to bottom. It was just one of those games where I was missing stuff. Couldn’t catch the ball for some odd-ass reason. So it was just one of those games. They had a good game but I feel like we had a lot of opportunities where we just missed easy stuff.
“We just have to let it go and go into the next one. I think that’s kind of our approach right now to go in and see what we did wrong and build from there. But at the end of the day we were just missing shots.”
And they also could use some bodies back.
“Our margin of error is really small right now,” Thibodeau said.