This wasn’t the type of break the Knicks were looking for.
They lost one of their most important pieces when Mitchell Robinson broke his right hand late in the second quarter of a 109-91 win over the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Friday night.
Robinson, who was midway through what could have been one of the best games of his career, likely hurt himself late in the second quarter while going up for a block with Julius Randle, Randle said. Robinson’s right hand connected with Randle’s elbow.
Robinson had 10 points and 14 rebounds at halftime, and his career highs are 23 points and 21 rebounds. He entered the game averaging 8.5 points and 8.2 rebounds this season.
He will be re-evaluated in New York on Saturday, coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Knicks will have to rely on Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson at center or make a trade ahead of the March 25 deadline. They also can elect to play small, Thibodeau said, and start Randle at center. (Randle, for his part, said he is very comfortable in the position.)
"It was probably the best first half of the year for him and obviously we know how important he is to the team," Thibodeau said of Robinson. "Any time someone gets hurt, you certainly feel for him . . . The great value and the thing Mitch brought to the team was the defensive component, and I feel Nerlens does many of those same things extremely well. And of course, Taj, that’s been his strength throughout his career, so I don’t want to lose that piece of it."
Up until the injury, it had been nothing for good news for the Knicks (12-15), who were coming off a two-game losing streak. They went ahead less than four minutes into the first quarter and never gave up the lead.
Randle led the Knicks with 24 points and 18 rebounds and Immanuel Quickley scored 16. In his second game with the team, Derrick Rose shot 7-for-11 and had 14 points and six assists in 19:58. Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Washington.
The Wizards drew within 32-29 in the second quarter, but Obi Toppin’s jumper, followed by Rose and Toppin connecting on an alley-oop, began a 13-5 run that gave the Knicks a 45-34 advantage with 5:55 to go.
The Knicks went into the break up 53-42, thanks to a balanced attack in which eight players scored, and brought a 79-64 lead into the fourth quarter.
They held the Wizards to 38.2% shooting from the floor. The Knicks outscored Washington 58-42 in the paint and outrebounded them 65-46.
Bradley Beal, leading the NBA in scoring at 32.8 points per game, was out as part of a rest day. He has been the subject of swirling trade rumors as the Wizards (6-17) continue their descent in the Eastern Conference standings. They also lost Ish Smith midway through the game with a quadriceps injury.
Robinson’s injury cast a pall on the evening, even if he is staying optimistic.
"Extremely positive," Randle said of Robinson’s mindset. "He’s obviously bummed that he can’t be here and compete with us on a night-to-night basis, but like I said, he’s in great spirits. He’s a great teammate, so you know he’s going to be with us every step of the way."
"You don’t replace a guy like that individually," Thibodeau said. "We have to do it collectively and everyone’s going to have to step up."
Not to say he’ll reject any outside help. "If there’s something that can make us better, we’ll always consider it,’’ he said, "but I think we have more than enough in that locker room."