With Mitchell Robinson rehabbing his fractured right hand, Nerlens Noel is the only true center on the roster. And when Taj Gibson went off with a sprained left ankle in the second quarter Saturday, Noel was even more alone.
Noel had eight points and seven rebounds in 41:15 in the Knicks’ 110-107 win over the Pacers, with Julius Randle moving over to help spot him for a few minutes.
"We obviously needed it, needed the size, needed the rim protection," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "And then down the stretch, when Julius got his fifth [foul], he had to go over to guard [Domantas] Sabonis, who is a load to guard as well.
"Just his activity, making them miss at the rim, being on the floor, coming up with big plays for us, and then when he’s rolling to the rim, he’s putting a lot of pressure on the rim, which is opening up a lot of other things for us. He’s a totally selfless guy, plays hard, and whatever you ask him to do, he does."
Asked if the Knicks might reach out for roster help if Gibson is sidelined, Thibodeau shrugged. "Next man up," he said. "We’ve got more than enough with the players that we have. I know Leon [Rose] and [William Wesley] and Scott [Perry] will look into players that are available. That’s their area. I’m just focused on the guys we have. We’ll figure out a way."
Rose looks good again
Elfrid Payton was held out for the second straight game because of a sore hamstring Saturday night, pushing Derrick Rose into the starting lineup again and raising concerns about just how long Payton will be sidelined.
"Elfrid is still day-to-day," Thibodeau said. "Making some progress, not quite ready.
"Injuries are part of the game. It’s unfortunate. You’ve got to trust your medical people, trust the player. When he says he’s ready to go, he’ll go. I have great confidence in him, I trust him. You want to be smart."
Rose had 18 points Thursday as the Knicks scored 140 points vs. the Kings. He had 17 points, 11 assists and five steals Saturday.
Rose shot 43.8% from three-point range in his first eight games with the Knicks. He attributed some of that long-distance success to a training tool he has had with him for years now.
"The ball, I’ve been carrying it almost my whole career, since like my third or fourth year,’’ he said. "I got introduced to it by Ron Adams, the assistant coach on Golden State, when he was in Chicago before they let him go.
"I feel like it makes my shot one motion. I feel like that’s the only reason why I’m still here. Because it basically changed my shot."
The ball has a quote on it from Chicago-based activist Fred Hampton: "If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle, then damn it, you don’t deserve to win."
"It’s funny how everything comes full circle," Rose said. "It’s crazy how it’s relating to everything like the movie [Judas and the Black Messiah] and everything that just came out."