Knicks’ facing potential big-man crisis as Nerlens Noel exits

Kemba Walker made it back for the Sixers’ game Monday in Philly, but starting center Mitchell Robinson did not. And Nerlens Noel didn’t make it through the game, leaving in the second quarter with an injured knee, leaving the Knicks in a potential center lurch. 

Walker sat out Sunday’s first leg of the back-to-back to rest and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had not guaranteed the Bronx native would make it back for the Sixers contest. 

He did it and even though he was limited to eight points, he managed to score a big floater, in which he was fouled and then took the ball from the backcourt. Walker finished the game with five assists. 

Walker said afterward there’ll be more rest nights, though he wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s not going to play any full back-to-backs. 

“It’s a long year,” Walker said. “I’m not gonna play every game. I feel great. It worked out. I want to be as fit as possible. The best men win games. It was definitely my call.” 

Kemba Walker's fourth quarter floater and steal helped seal the Knicks' 103-96 win over the 76ers Monday.
Kemba Walker’s fourth quarter floater and steal helped seal the Knicks’ 103-96 win over the 76ers Monday.
Getty Images

Walker didn’t play back-to-backs in Boston last season and left that issue up in the air when he signed with the Knicks. 

Walker now has single-digit scores in three consecutive contests, following a 40-game streak of double figures during the regular season. 

Whether his arthritic left knee was barking, Thibdoeau didn’t say. Walker was finally given the green light Monday morning after meeting with the medical team. 

Meanwhile the Knicks’ center situation has taken a bizarre turn. Robinson, who had started the first 10 games after missing preseason, didn’t play because of fatigue and a hip flexor. 

Robinson was at times slow against the Cavaliers, but he still managed five blocks in 16 minutes and went 3-for-3 from behind the arc. But, Cavs center Jarrett Allen was able to get inside and rookie power forward Evan Mobley got in the way. Robinson was a minus-11. 

After playing well Monday as a starter, Noel was taken out of the contest with a sore leg. Danny Green had fallen into it. Noel was forced to withdraw from the game due to a sore lower back. However, his injury to his knee/hamstring meant that he had to miss the rest of the contest. 

Nerlens Noel exited the Knicks' 103-96 win over the 76ers with a sore left knee.
Nerlens Noel exited the Knicks’ 103-96 win over the 76ers with a sore left knee.
Getty Images

Thibodeau began the second half with Taj Gibson. Thibodeau was also sending in rookie Jericho Sims, but he was pulled back by the coach when Andre Drummond came out of the game.

Thibodeau went small-ball with the Sixers. Obi Toppin was used at center, RJ Barrett at power forward, and Alec Burks as small forward. It’s the smallest alignment the Knicks have gone with in Thibodeau’s reign. 

Thibodeau could try it again with the Bucks up Wednesday 

The Knicks outrebounded the Sixers 55-47 despite Drummond’s 25. … Immanuel Quickley had his third straight good game, finishing with 10 points (3 of 4 from 3).

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