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Taj Gibson steps into Knicks' starting lineup for ailing Nerlens Noel

Taj Gibson #67 of the Knicks controls the

Taj Gibson #67 of the Knicks controls the ball in the first half against George Hill #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

INDIANAPOLIS — The Knicks latest lineup change lasted one game, 26 minutes to be precise, before Nerlens Noel was sidelined again Wednesday.

Noel was inserted in the starting lineup Tuesday in San Antonio. But he was a game-time decision Wednesday with a sore lower back and after testing it on the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, he was ruled out.

Taj Gibson stepped into the starting lineup, leaving Mitchell Robinson with the second unit. Robinson started the previous two games against Indiana this season, but he struggled to contain the Pacers' Myles Turner on the perimeter. After being inactive for five games, Gibson played just three minutes over the last four games, not getting on the floor at all in the last two before Wednesday’s start.

"[Turner is] unusual in the sense that he can spread the floor and play away from the basket," Thibodeau said before the news of Noel came down. "So the two bigs are going to have to be partners and communicate with each other, particularly in transition so we don’t run by him and leave him for wide-open shots. And then [Domantas] Sabonis poses problems as well because he facilitates well."

Pacers on alert

The Pacers have been struggling on the court — losing eight of their last 10 games and entering Wednesday night at 10-16, ahead of only Orlando and Detroit in the Eastern Conference. Injuries have hit Indiana hard. TJ Warren has been sidelined all season long with no return date in sight, T.J. McConnell underwent surgery for a hand injury which will likely sideline him for at least eight weeks and Justin Holiday has been away from the team, caught up in NBA Health and Safety Protocols.

But the troubles got worse when a story surfaced Tuesday that the team was entering a rebuild mode and would investigate trades involving Sabonis, Turner and Caris LeVert. After the story surfaced Pacers coach Rick Carlisle spoke with some of the players.

"It’s just communication," he told reporters Tuesday. "Letting those guys know that we’re trying to win games. We want to make this thing work. Beyond that, it’s just basic communication and talking to your top players."

"We’re all disappointed. But we all know that the way this league is, when things are tough, you’re never that far from being on track or vice versa. We got a little bit of momentum last night. We’ve got to work to build on that and that’s how we got to do business."

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