GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Ready or not, Andrea Bargnani is going to be the Knicks' man in the middle for the next four to six weeks.
Coach Mike Woodson confirmed the obvious Thursday when he said the 7-foot former No. 1 overall pick will start at center in place of Tyson Chandler, who suffered a small non-displaced fracture of his right fibula knocking knees with Charlotte's Kemba Walker.
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Bargnani, more of a perimeter player, is not anyone's idea of a rugged big man. But the Knicks (1-3) were thin up front even before Chandler went down in pain in the loss to the Bobcats.
Bargnani will start in the frontcourt Friday night with Carmelo Anthony and Iman Shumpert in the Knicks' rematch against the Bobcats. Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni will be the opening backcourt, at least until J.R. Smith returns Sunday from his five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Chandler, who was on crutches Thursday, said he was relieved he didn't suffer ligament or other more serious damage.
"I'm obviously disappointed I can't be out there for my team," he said. "But all things being said, I think if there was going to be an injury at least it's this one. Not anything worse. Hopefully I can get back in a month or so."
Replacing Chandler with Bargnani will hurt the Knicks on defense and rebounding. But Woodson has to hope Bargnani can learn to play with Anthony during Chandler's absence in a way that will help the team in the long haul.
"The beauty with Bargnani -- he might not be as quick and athletic as Tyson -- but he can also pick-and-roll and he can pick-and-pop," Woodson said. "We're going to have to utilize that. I'm going to have to grow his minutes. I've got to get him to 30 minutes-plus and see where we are with it."
Bargnani, who was slowed in training camp by back stiffness, is off to a slow start and has been booed at the Garden. He is averaging 8.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 21.0 minutes.
"With Tyson being out, he's going to have to play some serious minutes now," Woodson said. "Hopefully, I'm sure his minutes will be productive. It's my job to make him productive."