Chandler has been invaluable to Knicks

Knicks center Tyson Chandler cheers on his teammates

Knicks center Tyson Chandler cheers on his teammates from the bench. (April 5, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Tyson Chandler still has some trouble grabbing the ball because of a wrist injury, but he's had a big hand in everything the Knicks are doing lately and have done this season.

The Knicks' big offseason acquisition has been their most indispensible player. Without Chandler, the Knicks wouldn't be as stingy defensively and might not control their own destiny in their chase for a second straight playoff berth.

"All I can say is I'm glad he's on our team," coach Mike Woodson said. "He's a true winner. He's a professional on and off the floor and he pushes himself."

Chandler has pushed himself despite a left wrist injury that could be more serious than a sprain. He had 12 points and 12 rebounds and outplayed Dwight Howard in the Knicks' 96-80 win in Orlando on Thursday. After the game, Carmelo Anthony said Chandler has been playing with "a fractured hand." The Knicks denied that, saying it's a sprain.

Chandler himself hasn't spoken much about his hand lately. He's playing through the pain, appearing in 53 of the Knicks' 55 games, second to Landry Fields, who has played in all of them.

Chandler's toughness and value to the Knicks, who host the Bulls on Sunday, has been on display all season. He leads the NBA in field-goal percentage (67.5 percent) and is ninth in rebounding (9.8) and 14th in blocks (1.52).

He's a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a team that now has a defensive reputation, in large part because of their man in the middle.

The Knicks have given up an average of 87.7 points since Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni and have gone 10-3. Chandler has been their spiritual, emotional and vocal leader through it all, particularly on the defensive end. With 11 games remaining, the Knicks hold a one-game lead over the Bucks, who beat the Bobcats, 95-90, on Friday night, for the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot.

"Tyson has been very consistent for us," Anthony said. "He's our anchor in the hole. He's been playing with a fractured hand and still blocking shots, still dunking, still being aggressive, still being himself. He's been very consistent."

That consistency has gone a long way lately because with Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined with a bulging disc in his back, the Knicks have needed Chandler to stand tall inside.

Chandler has averaged 10.7 points and 10.8 rebounds and the Knicks have gone 4-2 since losing Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin (knee surgery).

The Knicks just returned from a two-game road trip in which Chandler played better than the Pacers' Roy Hibbert (10 points, five rebounds) and the Magic's Howard (eight and eight). Chandler averaged 12 points and 13 rebounds against the two centers who made the All-Star team over him.

"It's definitely in the back of my head," he said. "Any extra added motivation, I definitely use it. I had an opportunity to face these guys the last couple games, and you come out there and use that as motivation and play a little harder than normal."

Howard might have been distracted Thursday after Stan Van Gundy said the Magic superstar went to team officials and tried to get him fired. But Chandler has been better in all three of their head-to-head meetings this season, two of them wins by the Knicks.

"Any time I play against a guy like that, I want to try to take him out," Chandler said. "I know in order for my team's success, I can't let him get off."

Howard hasn't, and very few big men have this season against Chandler.

Walsh can look elsewhereThe Knicks have given former team president Donnie Walsh permission to speak to other teams about executive jobs. They have paid him as a consultant this season but he has had a very limited role with the team.

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