With the Knicks facing the most arduous stretch of their schedule, they found themselves down to their third center Monday night. They faced the Memphis Grizzlies without Nerlens Noel, who was sidelined with a sprained left ankle.
That left 35-year-old Taj Gibson to hold down the middle in his absence, with little-used Norvel Pelle the lone backup option in terms of a traditional center.
Coach Tom Thibodeau did note Sunday that the team has the flexibility to play smaller, with Julius Randle switching over to center at times.
Noel rolled his ankle when he collided with Houston’s Kelly Olynyk on Sunday night midway through the third quarter. Noel, who played less than 12 minutes, went directly to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. X-rays were negative, but he was listed as questionable before Monday’s game.
The Knicks have benefited greatly from Noel’s play. He and Gibson have combined to make up for the absence of Mitchell Robinson, who has been sidelined for all but four games since Jan. 12 with a broken right hand and then a broken right foot. Noel is averaging 2.2 blocked shots per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
The Knicks may have gotten one player back. Alec Burks was scheduled to go through pregame warmups, and if he came through the session with no issues, he was expected to be available.
Reward for Harper
Point guard Jared Harper, who was signed to a 10-day contract, switching from the two-way deal he was on, was signed to a second 10-day contract. The move was a reward to provide a financial bonus for Harper, who excelled for the Westchester Knicks this season . . . The team has been in discussions to possibly sign Argentine point guard Luca Vildoza, but it is unlikely for this season. "Leon [Rose] and [William Wesley] and Scott [Perry] are always looking at the opportunities that we could have, so that’s up to them," Thibodeau said. "If something makes sense and if they think it could help us, we’re always looking at it. But we’re obviously pleased with what we have."