Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson gets a Grizzlies challenge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mitchell Robinson has spent much of the Knicks’ six-game road trip grabbing offensive rebounds and fiercely blasting them through the hoop, then flexing his muscles.

He’s earned that right, although the center will face a major challenge on Friday night at the FedExForum. He must protect the rim from Ja Morant, the Grizzlies’ driving dunkmaster, while battling the NBA’s strongest man, center Steve Adams.

In the first fight against Memphis last month, Robinson had a rousing night in a 120-108 Knicks loss. It was the impetus for a great upswing to a possible contract extension or a hefty payday with unlimited freedom of choice.

Robinson accumulated 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in that February 2 loss. His highlight block didn’t even register as he prevented a monster dunk from Morant by spectacularly slapping it away but was still flagged for a foul.

Robinson will need 100 percent of his strength on Friday as he recovers from an “illness”. Robinson was a game-time decider in Dallas Wednesday, but he was careful and underwhelmed in the first half, making four put-back dunks against the undersized Mavericks with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Mitchell Robinson #23 of the New York Knicks dunks the ball
Mitchell Robinson has been a rebound machine for the Knicks lately.
Getty Images

It should be noted that the Mavericks need a big man to protect the rims, and Robinson has always viewed Dallas as a target. He even lived there off-season.

Robinson’s role was stopped on Monday in a win in Sacramento when he committed two fouls in the opening 1:40 against the burly Damantas Sabonis, went on the bench and never came back. The sometimes enigmatic 7-footer eventually left the bench and the Knicks revealed he had an “illness” that manager Tom Thibodeau has yet to specify.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant comes up for a dunk
Yes Morant was a dunking machine.
AP photo

“I thought Mitch was great because he wasn’t feeling at his best and he gave us a big boost early in the game,” Thibodeau said in Dallas.

Robinson is asked to rotate more at the perimeter and take guards. He has always been one of the leaders in blocked 3-point shots.

“Mitch has great feet and great length,” said Thibodeau. “His positioning is improving in the extra possessions he’s given us, but I don’t mind him changing late in the clock, especially when a team is downsized and they have to shoot a lot on the ground. So let her do it [baskets] about Mitch. It’s really long. His posture improved tremendously over a year ago.”

In the last two wins, Thibodeau built on a three-center rotation and used veteran Taj Gibson to spell out rookie Jericho Sims, who found himself in dire trouble in both games. Power forward Obi Toppin is still out with a hamstring injury and Cam Reddish, who recently featured at the power forward, is out for the season with a sprained shoulder.

Gibson proved invaluable in both victories. In Dallas, the exhilarating veteran scored his 11 points in 19 minutes, going 4-for-6 from the field and even dropping his ninth 3-pointer of the season. With the Knicks suddenly revived in the play-in race, Thibodeau will likely turn to Gibson as a backup.

It’s unclear whether Center Nerlens Noel will play again. He was sidelined with plantar fasciitis and never sat on the bench at either Dallas or Sacramento. Noel has played in just 25 games in a season’s train wreck, a crash that’s putting pressure on team president Leon Rose to lock up Robinson early if he can. Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson gets a Grizzlies challenge


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