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Did OG Anunoby return to Knicks too early after elbow surgery? ‘He met all the markers. He was cleared’

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OG Anunoby has returned home.

The star Knicks forward, less than six weeks removed from surgery, flew back to New York in the middle of the team’s four-game West Coast road trip to get an MRI on his right, shooting elbow.

The MRI came back clean, head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters in San Francisco on Monday, but Anunoby is not expected to rejoin the team for the fourth and final stop of the road trip in Denver against the reigning champion Nuggets on Thursday.

The Knicks ruled Anunoby out the morning ahead of their victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday. His elbow has become inflamed once again.

“We want to make sure that he’s completely healthy,” Thibodeau said ahead of tipoff against the Warriors. “We knew this was a possibility being a guy back from surgery. If there’s any discomfort and stuff and he can’t function the way that we feel he needs to function on the court, we’re just going to give him the time that he needs to let it calm down and we’ll go from there.”

There is no available timeline for Anunoby’s return.

The Knicks’ standout wing underwent surgery on his elbow in early February. He returned to the floor on March 12 and played in three games, all wins, including the first two games of the West Coast road trip.

In his first game back against the Philadelphia 76ers, he aggravated his elbow on a breakaway right-handed dunk causing some discomfort. He re-aggravated the elbow on Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers using his right arm to swipe down on a steal against seven-foot center Deandre Ayton.

Then he played 33 minutes in Saturday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings despite working on a minutes restriction. Anunoby shot 1-of-8 from the field and missed all four of his attempts from behind the arc against the Kings.

He has made one of his last eight threes and is 3-of-13 (23%) from downtown since returning to the floor after elbow surgery.

After his first game back, Anunoby agreed he needed to be cautious with seemingly basic basketball movements — like dunking — putting stress on his elbow. Thibodeau said some bumps would be expected of a player who only recently returned from surgery.

Anunoby underwent surgery to remove a loose bone fragment from his elbow in early February and returned to on-court activities three weeks later.

Thibodeau gave a non-answer when asked if Anunoby returned from surgery too soon.

“You can’t work backwards,” he said. “There’s too many steps he had to go through. He met all the markers. He was cleared. This is a possibility. Whenever you come back from surgery, this is what you’re looking at. And so we feel good about where he is. And just give him the time he needs.”

The Knicks have won nine straight games in which Anunoby has played dating back prior to his injury. They are 15-2 in games he has been available since acquiring him in the Dec. 31 deal sending RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to the Toronto Raptors.

Anunoby is averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game since arriving in New York this season.

He is expected to decline the player option on the final year of his current contract and enter unrestricted free agency this summer.

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