Knicks on brink of Mitchell Robinson injury boost

Starting center Mitchell Robinson returned to full contact in practice on Wednesday, and the Knicks’ defensive backbone hasn’t been ruled out of the team’s first game out of the All-Star break Friday night in Washington.

“Good, he went through practice, so we’ll see how he feels [Thursday],” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the team reassembled and worked out in Tarrytown. “He was cleared for contact. It’s his first day back, so we’ll see how he feels. But he’s got to go step by step

“There’s nothing you can do that’s going to replicate a game. This is the next step to be in practice and take contact, but it’s still not the intensity of a game.”

The 24-year-old Robinson has been sidelined since undergoing right thumb surgery on Jan. 19, the day after he suffered a fracture in the first half of a loss to the Wizards at the Garden. The Knicks went 8-6 without the 7-foot center, with backup big men Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein sharing the minutes down low in his absence.

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson with his right hand bandaged at an NBPA event on Jan. 29, 2023.
Knicks center Mitchell Robinson with his right hand bandaged at an NBPA event on Jan. 29, 2023.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Robinson, who signed a four-year contract extension worth $60 million last summer, is averaging 7.2 points and 8.9 rebounds over 38 games this season. His 1.8 blocked shots per game would rank him sixth in the NBA if he had enough appearances to qualify. He also boasts the best net rating among Knicks regulars; the team has outscored opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

“It’s great to have him back. He’s an important part of the team. We want everyone healthy. We need everyone right now,” Thibodeau said.

“It does a lot,” point guard Jalen Brunson said of Robinson’s pending return. “It’s good to see him healthy, first and foremost. He brings a lot to the table. He’s been great for us down inside the paint, on both sides of the floor.

“So when we can get a guy like that back, it definitely helps and I’m very excited to get him back.”

Mitchell Robinson dunks during a Knicks game against the Wizards on Jan. 13, 2023.
Mitchell Robinson dunks during a Knicks game against the Wizards on Jan. 13, 2023.
Getty Images

Asked if he expects Robinson to be on a minutes restriction initially once he’s back in the lineup, Thibodeau noted that the center has been able to maintain his conditioning while his hand recovered from surgery.

“We’ll talk to the medical people. Whenever a player comes back you see where they are,” Thibodeau said. “If he can handle minutes, he’ll play. If he needs a break, he’ll get a break. So we’ll talk to him, talk to the medical people, see what everyone thinks. We like the depth that we have at that position.”

Sims has started 14 straight games at center, with Hartenstein sticking with the familiarity of the second unit. But Sims could lose his rotation spot for now, just as guard Miles McBride hasn’t played in three straight games – all wins – since Josh Hart was acquired from Portland before the trade deadline.

“Same thing with Deuce. Those guys have done a great job,” Thibodeau said when asked about Sims. “It starts with practice and they practice great every day. It gives me confidence that they’re always going to be ready. Whenever they’ve been called upon they’ve played very well for us.”

Mitchell Robinson with the ball during the Knicks' game against the Warriors on Dec. 20, 2022.
Mitchell Robinson with the ball during the Knicks’ game against the Warriors on Dec. 20, 2022.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

The Knicks (33-27) enter their final 22 games of the regular season in the sixth playoff position in the Eastern Conference – a half-game ahead of the Heat and two behind the Nets for the No. 5 spot.

“We’re excited to kind of get down this last stretch of games,” Brunson said. “I think we just gotta get back to being focused. We had a great break. Everyone looks rested. Everyone’s good to go, just gotta get refocused and ready to go. That’s all.

“We can’t come out these next couple of games lackadaisical. We’ve got to hit the road running.”

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