Frank Ntilikina’s first game appearance in nearly two months was a productive one, but it wasn’t likely to alter Tom Thibodeau’s 10-man rotation once starting point guard Elfrid Payton returns to the Knicks’ lineup.
Payton, who sat out Thursday’s win over the Kings, “did a lot of training” Friday and “we’ll see where he is” ahead of Saturday’s game against the Pacers at the Garden, Thibodeau said after practice.
Thibodeau also replied “probably not” when asked if he expects to extend his rotation beyond the customary 10 players to accommodate more time for Ntilikina or others.
“I think 10 is ideal,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously it’s hard because we have guys that are deserving. But I think sometimes when you extend that far you sort of take away from the ability to play well, because you do need some time to get a rhythm into the game.
“So anyone outside of the 10, you’re situational whether it be injury or foul trouble.”
In addition to Ntilikina and the since-traded Dennis Smith Jr., former first-round pick Kevin Knox and veteran guard Austin Rivers also have fallen out of Thibodeau’s playing rotation in recent weeks.
“Those players are all very important to the team,” Thibodeau said. “I value practice greatly. I value the spirit of the team when you’re not in the game, just be into the game because you never know, things can change in a minute.
“That’s the thing about the NBA. It’s constant change. Whenever you’re called upon, you have to be ready. Obviously that was one of the things that I was pleased with, with Frank. He wasn’t in the rotation, but he was practicing well and I knew when the opportunity came he would be ready, and he was.”
Ntilikina registered seven points, two assists and three steals in 23 minutes against the Kings. It was his first game since Dec. 29, due also to a knee injury and a stint on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis was named to replace the Nets’ Kevin Durant on the Eastern Conference All-Star team