The Knicks' rough start got even worse Wednesday with the news that invaluable center Tyson Chandler could miss six weeks with a broken right leg.
Chandler was injured when he banged knees with Charlotte guard Kemba Walker in the loss to the Bobcats Tuesday night at the Garden. According to the Knicks, Chandler has a small non-displaced fracture and will miss four to six weeks. The team said he doesn't have any ligament or nerve damage and won't require surgery.
But this is a huge loss for the Knicks, who have dropped three consecutive games after winning their opener. The 7-1, 235-pound Chandler, an All-Star last season and the 2011-2012 season's Defensive Player of the Year, is one of the Knicks' most indispensable players and their anchor in the middle.
"All we can do is nurse him back," Mike Woodson said on ESPN New York radio Wednesday afternoon. "He's a reason why we've had the success we've had the last two seasons. We're going to need him back in a uniform here soon."
Chandler was off to a strong start after injuries limited him late last season and in the playoffs. He averaged 9.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the first three games before leaving 6:35 into Tuesday's game. The Bobcats met little resistance inside and outrebounded the Knicks 51-33.
If Chandler meets the proposed timetable, he could miss from 13 to 21 games. Woodson said now he's "forced to go back to small ball."
That recipe was successful last season when the Knicks won 54 games. But the last three contests, Woodson started a big frontcourt of Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Chandler.
As of now, Woodson is leaning toward starting guards Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert along with Anthony and Bargnani at center Friday night against the Bobcats in Charlotte. The Knicks lose a lot in the areas of defense and rebounding with Bargnani at center instead of Chandler. Bargnani, a 7-footer who is more comfortable playing on the perimeter, has been a defensive liability throughout his career and is averaging only 2.0 rebounds a game.
"That's really the only route I have right now," Woodson said.
The Knicks have few options, unless they can acquire a big man who can help them immediately. If they were to sign someone, they would have to cut a player. Chris Smith would seem to be the likeliest candidate.
Woodson is handcuffed because of the minutes restriction on Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire. The only other center on the roster is Cole Aldrich, who hasn't played this season.
Martin started nine games at center last season -- and the Knicks went 9-0. But Woodson said the 35-year-old Martin, whose left ankle bothered him during the offseason, felt "a little sore" Wednesday after 18 second-half minutes Tuesday, when he wasn't supposed to play at all. Woodson hopes Martin can give him from 10 to 20 minutes Friday.
Stoudemire is limited to about 10 minutes per game. He can't play back-to-backs or even every other game so far after undergoing left knee surgery in July.
"You can't play them 30 minutes a night because there definitely can be a breakdown," Woodson said. "We're trying to monitor their minutes and try to make their minutes the most productive minutes to help us win games.
"I told [Stoudemire] and Kenyon, both you guys got to figure out. You're not going to be out there very long right now, you've got to make the most out of those minutes to win games. That's the only way it can be done."