After missing five weeks with a fractured hand, Mitchell Robinson returned to the New York Knicks starting lineup for just four games before he went down with a potential season-ending injury after fracturing his foot.

Mitchell Robinson New York Knicks Foot Injury Center
Mitchell Robinson, starting center for the New York Knicks, grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks before his injury. (Image: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

In the first quarter in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Robinson went down hard. He immediately grabbed his foot, then limped off the court.

The Knicks were poised to make a big run in the second half with their starting center and rim protector back in the lineup. However, Robinson’s return lasted exactly one week.

Robinson, 22, missed 15 games with a boxer’s hand injury, which occurred against the Washington Wizards in mid-February. He underwent successful surgery and missed five weeks of the season while rehabbing.

In his second game back from hand surgery, Robinson posted one of his strongest games of the season. He scored 16 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the first of two, back-to-back games against the Washington Wizards. He shot an efficient 7-for-9 from the floor and looked like his old self.

The Knicks were 3-1 since Robinson’s return. The sole blemish since Robinson’s return was a 1-point overtime loss against the Philadelphia 76ers last Sunday.

Robinson averaged 8.5 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, but his contributions on defense were priceless. The Knicks boast the top scoring defense in the league, allowing fewer than 105 points per game.

Robinson Understudy: Noel and Gibson

Losing a starter while in the thick of the playoff hunt is as bad as it gets, but the Knicks will soldier on. At least the Knicks know what to do with Robinson out with a broken foot. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will return to his previous game plan. Nerlens Noel started in place of Robinson with Taj Gibson backing him. The Noel/Gibson duo worked, and the Knicks posted a 9-6 record without Robinson.

Noel started 17 games this season, averaging 4.9 points and 6.1 rebounds. Gibson started just one game this season, averaging 4.6 points and 4.9 rebounds.

“You don’t replace a guy like that individually,” said Thibodeau when Robinson initially went down with a hand injury. “We have to do it collectively, and everybody is going to have to step up.”

The Knicks (24-22) currently sit in the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference. A trio of big dogs – the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers – dominate the top-heavy East, occupying the top three spots. The Knicks have a tight squeeze jockeying for spots against the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, and Atlanta Hawks for the #4 seed. If the Knicks aren’t careful, they could easily get tumble out of playoff contention and bubble.

If the injury occurred before the NBA trade deadline, there’s a chance the Knicks could have been in the market for a big man. Even after the deadline passed, the Knicks could have signed Andre Drummond, who recently had a contract buyout with the Cleveland Cavs. The Boston Celtics had a bead on Drummond before the Los Angeles Lasker swooped in and signed him.

For now, the Knicks Noel and Gibson will platoon at center.

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