Knicks center Mitchell Robinson’s return imminent

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

After 14 games of absence, Mitchell Robinson will likely return to the New York Knicks lineup, ironically, against the Washington Wizards.

Robinson fractured his thumb last Jan. 18 in the opening half of their 116-105 loss to the Wizards at home.

Robinson made his first full-contact practice Wednesday after his team-supervised workouts while vacationing in his hometown in Louisiana during the All-Star break.

“It’s his first day back, so we’ll see how he feels,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But he’s got to go step by step.”

In Robinson’s absence, the Knicks rotated Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein at the pivot to a relative success.

They weathered the storm despite their defense slipping to 24th (118.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) from the league’s second-best defense (110.0) during a 15-8 stretch that turned their season around before Robinson’s injury.

After losing their first two games following Robinson’s surgery, the Knicks won eight of their next 12 games to seize the sixth spot in the East with a 33-27 record heading into the All-Star break.

With 22 games left and the Knicks on a roll with three straight wins before the break, Thibodeau will likely play it safe and ease Robinson back into the rotation.

“There’s nothing you can do that’s going to replicate a game,” Thibodeau said. “This is the next step to be in practice and take contact, but it’s still not the intensity of a game.”

The Knicks will begin their stretch run with back-to-back games against the Wizards on the road Friday night and will host Robinson’s hometown team New Orleans Pelicans the next day.

Robinson will likely play in only one of them, similar to what Thibodeau did in November when the 24-year-old center returned from a knee injury. He came off the bench in a 116-95 loss at Phoenix on Nov. 24 and didn’t see action the following day during the team’s 129-119 win at Oklahoma City.

Robinson is averaging 7.2 points and a career-high 8.9 rebounds, with 4.3 off the offensive glass, which would tie him with Atlanta’s Clint Capela for no. 2 in the league behind Memphis center Steven Adams (5.1) if he had enough games to qualify.

He’s also averaging a career-high 1.0 assists and 1.8 blocks, which would rank sixth in the league this season.

Sims, who averaged 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 points during Robinson’s 14-game absence, will return to being situational once Robinson is cleared to play.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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