WASHINGTON — It turns out center Nerlens Noel didn’t sit out the Knicks’ preseason opener just for rest.
Noel missed the game Tuesday against the Pacers because of a bum right knee. Noel was out again when the Knicks faced the Wizards on Saturday in their second preseason game because of right-knee soreness.
Before the game against Indiana game, head coach Tom Thibodeau said Noel wouldn’t play because he wanted to take a closer look at rookie center Jericho Sims. The coach mentioned nothing about a knee issue and explained a key member would rest in each of the four preseason games.
The Knicks are already without center Mitchell Robinson, who broke his right foot in late March and may not play at all in the preseason. Robinson was seen running laps — not at full speed — during the Knicks’ shootaround Saturday at Georgetown University.
Meanwhile, Julius Randle didn’t travel to Washington for “personal reasons.’’ Randle said earlier in training camp his wife was expecting a baby shortly.
The key to last season’s 41-31 record was Noel remaining healthy after Robinson’s two major injuries — a broken right hand, incurred in a game at Washington, then the broken foot, suffered at Milwaukee. Noel had a solid season as a shot-blocking presence.
Taj Gibson was expected to start at center against the Wizards and the Knicks likely would get an even longer look at Sims, the 58th pick of the draft out of Texas, whose activity is appealing. He dunked two alley-oop lobs against the Pacers.
Knicks legend and Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing visited the shootaround, then took the court for practice with his Hoyas.
“I wish them luck,’’ Ewing said of the Knicks.
Obi Toppin got a great run in the starting lineup during summer league in August and was back in that role against the Wizards with Randle out. Toppin, as a rookie, admitted it wasn’t easy playing just 11 minutes a night as Randle’s backup last season. In the preseason opener, Toppin looked sharp and fast.
“I felt like a lot more comfortable,” Toppin said. “I had the whole summer with these guys, trained with them. It felt great this summer. I feel my confidence is higher because of that.’’
Toppin, a Brooklyn native, was trying to meet Ewing before practice, but got tied up. He said he’d still try to talk to Ewing on the way out, to which RJ Barrett remarked, “Big-timing Patrick Ewing.’’
“I grew up a Knicks fan,’’ Toppin said. “My grandfather had tickets to all their games. It’s great to be in his facility right now.’’
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