Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks in front of Wizards forward...

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks in front of Wizards forward Deni Avdija during the second half of an NBA game on March 23 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Vincent Carchietta

After missing 15 games with a fractured right hand, Mitchell Robinson returned to action last week and returned to the starting lineup Thursday night. But instead of setting himself on course to finish the season strong, he again was lost to injury Saturday night.

Just 5:50 into the game, the aggressive Knicks big man jumped up over Brook Lopez in an attempt to steal an entry pass. But he came down on the floor awkwardly and immediately grasped his right foot, writhing in pain. Before the Knicks could get him out of the game, he attempted to block another shot, but once play stopped, he was done.

Robinson went to the locker room and was diagnosed with a fractured right foot. He will be reevaluated in New York on Sunday, but this injury could cost him the rest of the season. There are six weeks remaining in the regular season and the timeline for a return can vary, depending on the severity of the injury and which bone in his foot is fractured, but many players have been sidelined six to eight weeks with a fractured foot.

Derrick Rose, who returned for the first time since Feb. 28 after a bout with COVID-19, was unaware of the severity of the injury to Robinson. When he learned about it in an on-air interview afterward, he choked up and could not even speak.

"Oh, man. Oh, man," Rose said. "I’m lost for words right now. I mean, just stay with him, pray for him."

When Rose spoke again later, more composed, he still felt for Robinson, recalling his own struggles with injuries.

"You know it sucks, man," he said. "For someone like him, seeing how hard he worked to get back, for this to happen. It just sucks . . . He knows how the team feels. One on one, I didn’t talk to him. But I went through a lot of injuries myself, so I know his mind is probably racing right now, going crazy. So I’ll probably let him calm down and tomorrow, whenever he’s free, I’ll probably chop it up with him."

"It’s tough. I feel for him," RJ Barrett said. "He worked so hard to get back, to see him go down again, man, it hurts us, it hurts the team. But we’re gonna be with him every step of the way until he gets back."

"Obviously, they care about each other a lot," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Mitchell’s been terrific for us. So you hate to see it. It’s a very close-knit group. You feel for Mitchell because of all the work he’s put in. And he’ll be fine. He’ll have to go through rehab and stuff, but he’s been through that before. And then just maximize his time that way. You feel for a teammate and that’s part of the game. You have to deal with it as best as you can."

Robinson returned for only four games before getting injured again. He underwent surgery after suffering the hand injury on Feb. 12 and was out until March 21.

With that injury, the Knicks had to keep him from rushing back as he worked on his conditioning in hopes of returning sooner. But this injury is different because it keeps him from running. Robinson is 7 feet and 240 pounds, and putting pressure on a fractured foot risks re-injury.

The Knicks had hoped to use the remainder of this season to see Robinson as a starter under Thibodeau and determine just what the future holds for him with the franchise. He has played on an inexpensive contract, but the team needs to make a decision at some point whether to extend him or let him head toward unrestricted free agency after the 2021-22 season.

The injury could alter the Knicks’ plans. With nearly $15 million in cap space, they could be active in the buyout market.

Knicks sources indicated Saturday afternoon that the team would not pursue Andre Drummond, who was bought out by the Cavaliers. Drummond, who has been the best rebounder in the NBA, certainly could provide an upgrade for the Knicks offensively and on the boards. But his defense is not up to the levels that Thibodeau wants in his big men, and his skill set offensively could interfere with the way Julius Randle and Barrett play.

But there are a number of options out there if the Knicks seek immediate help. Gorgui Dieng, a 6-10 center who played for Thibodeau in Minnesota, was waived by Memphis on Saturday and would give them a stretch-five. He’s shooting 47.9% from three-point range this season in 22 games for the Grizzlies.

An intriguing name to watch is Al Horford, 34, who announced along with the Thunder that he would not play in games anymore this season. The timing, just past the trade deadline, would mean that a buyout is the only way out right now. But he is owed $27 million next season and $14.5 million guaranteed the following year ($26 million if he is not bought out then) and the Thunder certainly would like to get a return if they send him elsewhere.

Notes & quotes: According to a league source, Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne will not leave to take the head-coaching job at DePaul after interviewing with the school in New York during the Big East Tournament and Friday in Milwaukee. … Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant pulled out of talks with the University of Utah about its head-coaching vacancy.