Monday in Memphis could force the Knicks to launch Taj Gibson in the center and use Norvel Pele as a backup.
In the only notable note in Houston on Sunday night, the Nerlens Noel launch center crashed to its knees with Christian Wood and suffered a sprained ankle. He left in the third quarter and did not return. He played only 11:20.
Knicks felt good without him. Gibson played 31 solid defensive minutes and scored six points (3 of 4 shots) with five rebounds against Tom Thibodeau, who said he was “amazing.” Pele received a rare action, playing the last five minutes.
Thibodeau did not know Noel’s status for Monday’s match, but the fact that he did not return was not a good sign. Thibodeau has some options other than Pelle as a backup. As Topin begins to appear in the last two weeks as a two-way force, he can move to the center and play alongside Julius Randall.
Sixth man Alec Burks, who is out of the COVID-19 protocol, was eliminated from the race on Sunday, but has a chance to make it to Memphis. Knicks did not make Burks available for comment since his return to the team. He has missed eight games in a row.
“He’s getting much closer,” Thibodeau said.
The coach has not changed the rotation since Burks left – instead increasing the minutes of rookie Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose. Thibodeau initially said Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, former Knicks lotteries, would take the rebate, but until Sunday, neither had played in any of the previous three games.
“We have boys coming and going all season,” Thibodeau said. “We will see where it is determined. A guy like Alec I think will adapt very quickly. “