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An exhausted Mitchell Robinson flexes new muscles in anticipated return

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 10/16/2021 Stefan Bondy, New York Daily News

Mitchell Robinson didn’t wait long to show off his new biceps to the Garden.


The 23-year-old center returned Friday after a seven-month absence because of a broken foot, logging 27 minutes with six points and nine rebounds while sometimes sucking wind through the fast-paced conditioning test.

It was a loud re-introduction. Robinson’s first points were courtesy of a thunderous putback dunk in the opening quarter. He celebrated under the basket by flexing his arms, which he bragged about expanding in the weight room during the extended rehab.

“I worked on my body the whole summer,” Robinson said, “so I got to show it off.”

But rust and fatigue were expected issues. Robinson also fell to the court thrice, popping back up while demonstrating his foot can handle a bump. Tom Thibodeau said before the game that Robinson’s minutes would be monitored, but starting center Taj Gibson fouled out early and “limited” turned into extended.

“We just wanted to see where he was,” Thibodeau said. “So we had two different plans. We had one with shorter minutes. One to get him in, let him play, let him get his second wind, get him out, put him back. And we kept checking with the trainers. He’s actually done a lot in practice, he comes back every night as well. So I know where he is. He just needs the contact so he can get his timing.”

Robinson was gassed.

“Yes,” he said, “I felt real tired. Not that bad. But it was bad. It’s getting there (with my conditioning). I don’t think I’m at the halfway point yet. But I’m right there.”

Still, a minutes threshold was reached in the fourth quarter and Robinson watched from the bench as the Knicks completed their comeback over the Wizards, 115-113. It was capped by a buzzer-beating game-winner from Julius Randle, and the Garden crowd exploded.

It was Robinson’s first appearance since March, when he fractured his fifth metatarsal by landing awkwardly in Milwaukee. His recovery took much longer than anticipated and Robinson was only recently cleared for full contact.

After finishing Friday’s win unscathed, Robinson is on track for the regular season opener Wednesday against the Celtics.

“He’ll keep moving forward as long as he doesn’t have any setbacks, which I can’t foresee,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s still a conditioning aspect of it. But he’s done real well. So we feel really good about where he is.”

Robinson’s most impressive stat was six offensive boards, and he rejected a Wizard’s drive from a trailing position in the third quarter. But he missed 5 of his 8 shot attempts — a poor ratio for the player who holds the NBA’s single-season record for field goal percentage. All three of Robinson’s made baskets were at the rim.

It was one more preseason appearance than the projected starting center, Nerlens Noel, who suffered a knee injury in training camp. Taj Gibson received the bulk of preseason minutes at center, and Thibodeau is clearly comfortable handing his veteran the position in a pinch.

But Robinson carries the greatest upside and is entering a contract season.


The Knicks are taking a flier on former first-round pick Luka Samanic, a 21-year-old Croatian stretch power forward who flamed out with the Spurs.

Samanic, who was drafted 19th by the Spurs just two years ago, is signing a two-way contract and could spend time in the G League. He played 33 games last season for San Antonio, averaging 3.7 points while shooting 45%. Samanic was waived by the Spurs this week.

The Knicks, meanwhile, waived Dwayne Bacon, who was a candidate for the final roster spot but didn’t fit Tom Thibodeau’s mold for that position.

New York still has three players on nonguaranteed contracts – Wayne Selden, Aamir Simms and MJ Walker – who are possibilities to make the final roster. The Knicks could also leave the 15th spot open or sign a free agent.

“For that last spot it’s who fits our team the best,” Thibodeau said. “That’s a role that’s important for our team. It’s more of a practice role, being ready, what do you bring to practice every day and when you’re called upon being ready to go in there. We’re going to continue to look to see what’s available and continue to do what’s best for our team.”


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