The most compelling reason to watch the Knicks the rest of the season is back on the court.
After missing nine games with a sprained right ankle, rookie RJ Barrett returned in Thursday’s 105-103 Garden win over the Magic, finishing with 12 points, three assists and three rebounds. In his first game since Jan. 16, Barrett was limited to 18 minutes off the bench.
“I was sore, but fighting through it,” Barrett said. “It was great to be back out there with my teammates. I just had a lot of fun out there.”
If Barrett was bothered by the ankle, it wasn’t obvious. The third-overall pick was aggressive in attacking the rim and finished a strong first half with 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field.
Barrett, who has averaged over 31 minutes per game this season, played less than seven minutes in the second half and isn’t sure when he’ll resume regular action.
“I trust the staff. I trust the coaches,” Barrett said. “They told me they were going to limit me a little bit. They’ve been through this more than I have. I trust them.”
Barrett’s biggest gripe in his return was a familiar one. The 60 percent free-throw shooter hit just 5 of 9 attempts at the line.
“I’m very happy, except for my free throws,” Barrett said. “I’ve been working every day since I got hurt.”
Even with the trade of leading-scorer Marcus Morris, Kevin Knox couldn’t crack the starting lineup. The 2018 lottery pick responded by weakening his case.
Coming off a 12-point effort in Monday’s overtime win over the Cavaliers — breaking a stretch of nine straight games scoring in single-digits — Knox missed his five shots and finished scoreless. The 20-year-old, who averaged 12.8 points as a rookie, has now scored two points or fewer in four of his past six games, and has hit one field goal or fewer in seven of his past nine games.
Kenny Wooten shouldn’t expect a call-up anytime soon.
Even with the passing of the trade deadline, Wooten — the 21-year-old forward, signed to a two-way deal with the Knicks three weeks ago — likely will remain in the G-League for the foreseeable future.
“At this point, I think the most important thing for his development is playing those 30 minutes a game that he’s playing,” interim coach Mike Miller said. “We’ve seen the growth in him getting to play those minutes. The quality minutes are the most important thing for him. getting spot minutes isn’t going to push his development the way it would consistently every night.”
Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson both sat out with an illness.
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