Knicks center Nerlens Noel looks on against the Houston Rockets...

Knicks center Nerlens Noel looks on against the Houston Rockets in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SACRAMENTO — While Mitchell Robinson has established himself as a vital cog for the Knicks this season, Nerlens Noel has endured a nightmare of.a season, and it took another turn Sunday.

Noel has battled an assortment of injuries since the preseason and has played in only 25 games. Questions arose about his availability in recent days, with the team saying he was available, then dealing with plantar fasciitis, and coach Tom Thibodeau said he will not play him until he is fully healthy.

So he was not in uniform again Sunday and Monday, listed as out for the games against the Clippers in Los Angeles and the Kings in Sacramento.

"We just want him to be healthy," Thibodeau said. "That’s the big thing. It’s been a tough year for him and for us with him, so the focus is him getting healthy. That’s what it has to be. We tried it where we played him and then we had to sit him, play him, sit him, play him. That’s tough to do, so we felt the best course of action was, let’s get him healthy. So once he gets healthy and he can practice again, then he can play."

Stepping in

Jericho Sims has been the Knicks’ first big man off the bench since the All-Star break, and the rookie has reached double-figures in rebounds in two of the last four games. He has 28 rebounds in 61:56 of playing time in those games.

"He’s big. He’s strong,’’ Thibodeau said. "He’s still finding his way, I think. He’s going to get better and better. He’s great in practice every day. He really wants to be good, so that’s where it starts. There’s obviously a lot that he has to learn, but we love who he is as a player and he’s a terrific teammate.’’

Stoppers

When the Knicks finally got in the win column Sunday for the first time in nearly a month, it was due in no small part to the play of a rarely utilized grouping of young players — RJ Barrett with Miles McBride, Cam Reddish, Immanuel Quickley and either Sims or Mitchell Robinson — and a surprising defensive effort.

"Yeah, it was good pressure," Thibodeau said. " . . . I thought the ball pressure was real good, getting around screens. It allowed us to do some switching. They downsized, and so when they downsized — also, we had a stretch where Julius {Randle] was at the five with that group, and I thought he did a really good job when he was at the five. So it allowed us to do some switching. All those guys can guard their position. They can guard up a position and down a position."