Short-handed Knicks integrate newcomers Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks in 125-111 loss to Pacers

NEW YORK — Things won’t look this ugly when Julius Randle and OG Anunoby return to the rotation.

It’s the prevailing thought to keep in mind watching a Knicks team ravaged by injury hobble into next week’s NBA All-Star Break.

The Knicks were without three starters and two backup centers in their 125-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers, with first-time All-Star guard Jalen Brunson returning from a sprained right ankle as a game-time decision to suit up on Saturday.

Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, however, wasn’t at all about the game.

It was more about the process than the result for a team incorporating two players projecting as key pieces for what the organization hopes is a deep playoff run.

Saturday night was about Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks.

The vision is crystal clear — if you look beyond the scoreboard.

On a cold shooting night, Bogdanovic scored 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field in his Knicks debut and showed flashes of what he can provide the Knicks both in the short term while down multiple bodies and long term when the team returns to full strength.

He spaced the floor, often sprinting directly to the corner, opening up driving lanes for Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart.

Bogdanovic scored all 11 of his points in 16 first-half minutes. He played the screen-setting and pick-and-roll ball-handling role in his Knicks’ debut, though his value in this Knicks offense — particularly when Randle and Anunoby return to the rotation — will be as a spot-up 3-point shooter in minutes alongside the starters and a spark plug, secondary playmaker while captaining the second unit.

Down Mitchell Robinson (ankle surgery), Isaiah Hartenstein (sore left Achilles) and Jericho Sims (illness), Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau even deployed Bogdanovic as a small-ball five in late-game minutes.

And with Anunoby (elbow surgery) and Randle (dislocated shoulder) out, Bogdanovic was part of the best five-man unit the Knicks trotted out on Saturday: Thibodeau closed the first half with Brunson, Bogdanovic, DiVincenzo, Hart and Precious Achiuwa on the floor.

Fans in attendance on Saturday cheered when the Jumbotron showed Bogdanovic before he was introduced after subbing into the game for the first time at the 4:12 mark of the first quarter.

Burks elicited a similar reaction from the Garden faithful when he checked into the game minutes after Bogdanovic.

Burks, who played under Thibodeau in the 2021 and 2022 seasons, used his length and athleticism as a primary defender guarding Indiana’s All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton (22 points, 12 assists) for stretches in the game.

Burks finished the game with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, erupting for a barrage of 3s to gun the Knicks back into the game from down 22 in the fourth quarter.

What the Knicks need — as soon as possible — is a healthy, capable center.

Thibodeau started Achiuwa at the four and the 38-year-old Taj Gibson at the five after the Knicks re-signed Gibson to a second 10-day contract. The veteran big man played 19 minutes and shot 0 of 4 from the field, often looking gassed after extended time on the floor.

Thibodeau offered little update on Hartenstein, who has battled recurring soreness in his left Achilles.

“No, just it’s gonna be day to day,” he said. “Just see where he is.”

With little resistance to offer on the boards, the Pacers out rebounded the Knicks, 42-31. Hart led the Knicks with 10 rebounds, Achiuwa tallied six, and no other Knick recorded more than three boards on the night.

Rebounding won’t be an issue when Hartenstein returns, and it’ll become a strong suit again when Randle, Anunoby and Robinson make their way back to the court.

Saturday was an ugly loss — and more losses could be on the horizon with two more games until the All-Star break.

Win-loss record isn’t the primary concern. Not while shorthanded. Incorporating the newcomers is top priority at Madison Square Garden, and Saturday was the first step in the right direction.