Obi Toppin’s role could increase and Nerlens Noel has looked better in practice, giving Tom Thibodeau decisions to make up front.
The Knicks coach said on Sunday “everything is on the table,” and he could try some new things to spark his languishing team in Game 5 at the Garden as the Knicks face elimination.
Playing the 6-foot-9 Toppin more seems likely — maybe even alongside Julius Randle as he did at the end of Game 4 — after Toppin scored a career-high 13 points in Sunday’s lopsided loss.
“Obi’s played well,” Thibodeau said. “At this point, playing well means you’re going to play more. I’m very pleased with his season overall. But each day he’s gotten better. He’s played very well in the playoffs.”
Then there is Noel, the veteran shot-blocker who suffered an ankle injury in Game 1 and hasn’t made an impact in the series. He was able to practice fully on Tuesday, and Thibodeau believes the extra day in between games has been good for him.
Noel has blocked just two shots in the series — well down from his 2.2 per game during the regular season. His numbers, from points to rebounds to minutes, are down across the board. It has led to an increased role for 35-year-old Taj Gibson in the middle.
Since benching Elfrid Payton and inserting Derrick Rose into the starting lineup, the Knicks have been outscored by 28 points over the last two games. Thibodeau said he has looked at how that move has changed the point guard dynamic for the team, but wouldn’t say if he plans to make any alterations.
With Trae Young torching the Knicks in the series, averaging 27.5 points on 47 percent shooting and adding 10.0 assists, defensive-minded guard Frank Ntilikina has remained mostly sidelined. Thibodeau wouldn’t say if that will change Wednesday when asked about Ntilikina, who has played just four minutes spanning two games in the series.
“We count on everyone,’’ Thibodeau said when asked about mulling a point guard rotation change. “Just be ready to go. You look at everything. You look at in totality. You break it down quarter by quarter, the corrections that need to be made. You’re looking at all the information and you’ve got to move forward.’’
Hawks wing Kevin Huerter, an Albany-area native, wouldn’t say if he feels safe playing at the Garden in the wake of a rash of fan-related incidents during the playoffs.
“Ask me this question again after Wednesday,” he said.
In Game 2 at the Garden, a fan spit on the Hawks’ Young and another fan threw a beer at the Knicks’ bench, dousing Immanuel Quickley. In the last week, the Nets’ Kyrie Irving had a water bottle thrown at him in Boston, and the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook had popcorn dumped on him in Philadelphia. On Monday, a fan ran onto the court during Game 4 of the 76ers-Wizards series.
“I like what Kevin Durant said on it: People in some ways kind of have to grow up a little bit,” Huerter said. “I know we’re coming out of quarantine and it’s great we have fans in the building, and fans are the reason why the NBA is the greatest league in the world, but you got to grow up. You got to go to games just to watch the games. We don’t need you involved. We don’t need you running on the court, throwing things.
“Like Kevin Durant said, we’re not just pawns out there. We’re human beings playing a sport we love, playing a game we love.”