Knicks' Derrick Rose (4) drives to the basket as Houston...

Knicks' Derrick Rose (4) drives to the basket as Houston Rockets' Eric Gordon defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Houston.  Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

The Knicks were already reeling from multiple players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and now they won’t have Derrick Rose for at least the next two months.

Rose underwent successful surgery on his right ankle Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and will be re-evaluated in eight weeks, the team announced. Rose played with the sore ankle in last Friday’s game against the Rockets, but struggled through 12 minutes in the first half and sat out the second half. He is averaging 12 points, four assists and three rebounds in 26 games this season.

The Knicks have six players in the health and safety protocols, including guards RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes. The Knicks announced earlier on Wednesday that Obi Toppin has been cleared from the protocols and rejoined the team. The team said Wednesday night that Nerlens Noel was added to the protocols and will miss Thursday’s game against the Wizards. Kevin Knox also remains in the protocols.

With the players in the protocols and Rose sitting out last Saturday’s game against the Celtics, Kemba Walker got a chance to return to the starting lineup and scored a season-high 29 points. Walker put together a second big game Tuesday against the Pistons, scoring 21 points in 40 minutes, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out five assists.

Could Walker play his way back into the Knicks’ regular starting lineup?

The answer is complicated, judging from a comment Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau made after the team’s 105-91 win over the Pistons.

Thibodeau had elected not to use Walker at all since making the decision to remove him from the starting unit. The Knicks’ gutted roster forced Thibodeau to play Walker.

Kemba Walker of the New York Knicks against the Detroit...

Kemba Walker of the New York Knicks against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Though Thibodeau likes the way Walker has responded, it doesn’t sound like he is retreating from his decision last month to pull him from the starting lineup.

"Whoever gives us the best chance to win, you are going to be in there," Thibodeau said after the Detroit win when asked if Walker had shown him anything to change his mind in the last two games. "Performance matters. If you are playing well, you are going to be in there. That’s the way it works.

"I love Kemba. My job is to do what’s best for the team. And so, he’s playing great basketball. All the credit in the world goes to him. But the team winning is the most important thing. When we win, yeah, it’s great."

The Knicks are 1-1 during Walker’s renaissance. The Knicks went 3-7 during the 10-game stretch where Walker was on the bench. Still, when Quickley is healthy, he likely will get his minutes back. Grimes and McBride also have showed enough recently that they might see some time too.

Kemba Walker of the New York Knicks against the Detroit...

Kemba Walker of the New York Knicks against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Walker, who grew up in the Bronx and is a MSG favorite, seems to understand that there are no guarantees.

"I’m just enjoying myself. I’ve been having a lot of fun these last two games," Walker said after the Detroit win. "But at the end of the day, I’m just trying to do whatever I can do to help this team win."

During these last two games, Walker showed more chemistry with the starting offense than he has all season. He played like the point guard the Knicks hoped they were getting to upgrade their offense when they signed him as a free agent in the offseason.

Maybe that’s because Walker took to the court with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

"I’m just being aggressive, I think," Walker said. "I’m being more aggressive than I was at the beginning of the season. I think that’s the biggest difference.

"I’ve seen the change. I’m just being myself doing what I can and keep us upbeat. I think that’s what we’ve been missing a little bit throughout the season — just the overall joy for the game."

For one night, the joy was back at the Garden on Tuesday. With home games against the Wizards and Hawks on deck, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks give Walker a chance to build on that.

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