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Julius Randle not cleared for contact, questionable for Game 1

On Thursday, Tom Thibodeau offered little news about Randle’s status

Miami Heat v New York Knicks Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle sprained his ankle on March 29, and the franchise told us they would provide an update after re-evaluating the forward two weeks later. We arrived at that date yesterday, Thursday, April 13.

At the time of this writing in the early Friday morning, the Knicks have not provided any official update on Randle’s availability for Game 1 of the first-round playoffs series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

According to Stefan Bondy, of the New York Daily News, the Knicks actually “violated league access rules” yesterday by prohibiting media members to view any parts of their team practice. Of course, drama ensued and question marks about Randle’s status started to pop up all across Tarrytown.

Randle has not talked to any media member since he suffered his injury late last month, adding wood to the uncertainty fire.

Tom Thibodeau spoke to the media on Thursday, though, providing a little update on the status of his All-NBA forward, saying that Randle “took part” in the practice and that he is “continuing to progress.” That said, Thibodeau revealed that Randle is still “not cleared for contact.”

That is concerning . . . or maybe it’s not.

The Knicks will face the Cavs on the road on Saturday. According to the official NBA rulebook, “teams must report information concerning player injuries, illnesses and rest for all NBA games. By 5 p.m. local time on the day before a game.“ We will have a “final” answer about Randle’s status later today, and the Knicks are doing well keeping it all under wraps for as long as they can.

What benefit does report New York to make an early call on Randle’s availability, showing all of the cards to the Cavs a few days/hours in advance? Other than pleasing some Knicks fanatics and relieving their anxiety, none.

Our own Joe updated you with Thibs’ comments through Tuesday’s practice.

Since then, starting on Wednesday, Thibs said that Randle was “doing well overall,” that he had been “cleared for parts of practice,” but also that JR had not been “fully cleared yet” to take part in all activities. “He’s making good progress,” Thibs summarized.

As things stand, and before the official injury report drops on Friday evening and gets updated through the remainder of the day and Saturday leading up to tip-off, Randle can be considered “questionable” to appear on Game 1.

Asked about where things really stood on Wednesday, Thibodeau revealed that “it’s hard to say.”

“You just take it day by day. The thing I like is that each day he’s been better. So if he’s ready, he’s ready. If he needs more time, we’ll give him more time,” said the coach a couple of days ago.

After Thursday’s practice, Thibs did not change his tone and optimism that much. “We’re not gonna put Randle at risk. If he can go, he’ll go. We know that. He’s a gamer,” the coach said.

Thibodeau, though, added that in the event Randle ultimately has to miss Game 1 then the Knicks will need to replace the forward “collectively.” Thibs described that comment in further detail saying, “When we say collectively, we’re talking about everyone is capable of playing great defense. Everyone is capable of rebounding great, and everyone is capable of taking care of the ball.”

The coach thinks that if his team can do those three things, then that will put them “in position to win, regardless of who we’re playing against or where we’re playing.” He believes the Knicks “can get it done,” considering “that’s the mindset that we want to have.”

Another important voice in Knicks’ circles, announcer Mike Breen, spoke to Knicks analyst Alex Benesowitz and claimed Randle “is going to play in the series,” although he didn’t guarantee his presence on Game 1. “Whether or not he’s ready for Game 1, that’s to be determined,” Breen said on Tuesday.

“Whatever medical [says], that’s where you have to trust the medical staff and you trust Julius,” said Thibs yesterday. “They’re the experts, and Julius knows his body.”

Thibodeau wasn’t or at least didn’t look overly worried about Randle’s potential absence from Game 1, though, saying that “you prefer to have all your players,” but then providing some example of stretches with important pieces missing but the team still performing to great levels.

“The silver lining is that earlier when Obi was out, Jericho got in there, and I think we were 10–5 during that stretch,” Thibs said. “Jalen was out, so we get IQ starting, and he did a good job for us,” he continued. “Julius was out, Obi started, and he did a good job, and Josh got to play the four. Those are all things that I think are helpful.”

Thibodeau made clear that “whatever your circumstances are, make the best of those circumstances,” before affirming “that’s what I like about our team—I think they’ve done that all year long.”

One little favor the NBA did the Knicks was scheduling Game 2 of their first-round series against the Cavs for Tuesday instead of Monday. When the ball gets rolling next week, there would have been 20 days off on Randle’s watch—assuming he doesn’t play Saturday.

“I can see what I see from what he’s doing in practice, but you wanna rely on what [the medical staff] think is best,” Thibodeau said following Thursday’s practice. “At the end of the day, I defer to them. Julius obviously has a say in it, but the medical people are an important part of that equation as well.”

In other news, Cavs’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff played his cards as vaguely as Thibs, saying that “we’ll see” when asked on Thursday about Okoro’s availability for Game 1. The Cavaliers forward is expected to be fit and play from the get-go after missing the last six games of the regular season with a sore knee.