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The New York Knicks anticipate that center Mitchell Robinson will sit out the rest of the season while he recovers from an ankle injury. They have applied for a disabled player exception (DPE) worth $7.8 million.
Teams can apply with the NBA league office for a DPE if they think a player will be sidelined for an entire season. In Robinson’s case, his prognosis changed after he underwent surgery to repair a left ankle injury. The Knicks haven’t commented on his injury, but the DPE application suggests that Robinson will be out through June 15.
An initial estimate suggested Robinson would be evaluated eight to 10 weeks before the Knicks set a specific timetable for his return sometime in March.
The Knicks need help to bolster their front line, and were linked in different off-season trade rumors with big men, including Karl-Anthony Towns from the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-6) and reigning MVP Joel Embiid from the Philadelphia 76ers (19-8). Both the 76ers and the Timberwolves are playing well right now, so it doesn’t make sense for them to move their star players.
The Knicks have also been mentioned as a possible trade partner with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are shopping three starters before the trade deadline, including shooting guard Zach LaVine, small forward DeMar DeRozan, and center Nikola Vucevic.
Backup Isiah Hartenstein Shines
Third-string center Jericho Sims replaced Robinson in the starting lineup at center to maintain continuity and allow backup center Isiah Hartenstein to come off the bench. Sims started five games this season and averages 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. Hartenstein developed great chemistry with the second unit, anchored by point guard Immanuel Quickley and forward Josh Hart.
Hartenstein saw an increase in playing time since Robinson went down, and he’s become the Knicks’ vaunted sixth man. More importantly, he’s on the floor in the fourth quarter with the starters during crunch time, and at the end of the game.
“To be in that situation where I can be in that role, it’s something I’ve always wanted,” Hartenstein told The Athletic. “You’re going to be tired playing 40 minutes regardless. I’ve got a million scratches. It’s physical. But that’s what I’m ready for. That’s what I train my body for in the summer, to be prepared for that.”
In his last nine games, Hartenstein is averaging 6.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. He hauled down 17 rebounds in a victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, and tallied at least 10 rebounds in each of the last three games. Since the start of December, Hartenstein had just one game in which he recorded fewer than seven rebounds (and it was six against the Jazz).
I didn’t want Mitch to go out,” said Hartenstein. “That’s my man. He texts me after every game, so I miss him. We have to hold it down for him. So, I just keep proving that I can be in this role, too.”
Veteran center Taj Gibson was an unsigned free agent at the start of the season, but rejoined the Knicks when Robinson went down, adding much-needed depth.
Knicks Playing Well In Toughest Stretch
The Knicks recently returned from a four-game road trip against Western Conference teams. They went 2-2, with victories against the Phoenix Suns and L.A. Lakers, but lost a game against the Utah Jazz they should have won.
The Knicks are in the middle of a difficult 10-game stretch in which all of their opponents are winning teams above .500. They’re 3-1 at the onset without Robinson in the starting lineup.
The Knicks play an upcoming “duplex” series with two games against Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks. They square off Saturday at Madison Square Garden and again on Christmas. Then the Knicks hit the road for a quick three-game swing against the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8), Orlando Magic (16-10), and high-flying Indiana Pacers (14-12). They return to MSG to host the Timberwolves at noon on New Year’s Day.
If the season ended today, the Knicks (16-11) would secure the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics (21-6) are the top team in the Eastern Conference and hold down first place in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics are the betting favorite to win the division at -700 odds, and they’re ahead of the 76ers (+475) and Knicks (+8000).
The Knicks are sixth overall on the NBA futures board at +2500 odds to win the Eastern Conference for the first time since they appeared in the 1999 NBA Finals. It’s been 50 years since the Knicks last won an NBA title, and they’re currently +6000 odds to win the 2023-24 NBA championship.
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