The Knicks won for the seventh time in their past 10 games Wednesday night.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that stretch has largely coincided with Mitchell Robinson playing some of his best basketball of the season.
After needing to improve his conditioning early on, following offseason foot surgery, Robinson has come into his own to help lift the Knicks back to .500. The center scored a season-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks Wednesday against the Mavericks in what coach Tom Thibodeau called a “monster game.”
“The defense, protecting the rim and then offensively putting so much pressure on the rim and then the offensive rebounding and finishing through contact,” Thibodeau said. “Those are big plays. Those are the type of plays, because they’re such great effort plays, those things can ignite and inspire your team. So if you get a guy doing that, it gets everyone fired up.
“Mitch is playing great basketball right now, and that’s huge for us.”
Thibodeau called Robinson “the eyes of the defense,” lauding him for his “multiple-effort” plays and ability to cover pick-and-rolls while also having a strong presence at the rim. That area has certainly been helped by Robinson’s improved conditioning, which he has admitted needed some work earlier in the season.
“It’s heavy pick-and-roll league,” Thibodeau said. “So oftentimes there’s maybe 60 pick-and-rolls in a game. He’s got to be up. He’s got to stop the ball. He has to talk, he’s got to communicate, he’s got to read the ball. He’s got to cover up for mistakes. There’s a lot going on.”
Over their last 10 games (with Robinson playing nine of them), the Knicks have the NBA’s best defensive rating at 102.9. In 32 games before that, they were ranked 23rd with a defensive rating of 110.9.
Robinson had lost his starting job to Nerlens Noel in December, but got it back when Noel entered health and safety protocols just before Christmas. Despite a one-game absence of his own in COVID-19 protocols, Robinson has taken advantage of his latest opportunity, including three straight double-digit scoring games and back-to-back double-doubles.
“[He’s] more confident,” Julius Randle said. “Getting in better shape. Obviously being out for such a long time it takes a while. And just being aggressive, as he’s getting in better shape, he’s able to make reads out on the court he’s able to think the game better.’’