The Knicks have been a real pain in the neck for opponents during their 10-game winning streak, but the only neck pain they’re currently worried about is that of Tyson Chandler.
The All-Star center missed 10 straight games with a bulging disk in his neck, though New York won eight of those games. The Knicks (48-26) have enjoyed success sans their defensive anchor, but they’d certainly rather have Chandler back in the lineup.
The problem, however, is that Chandler is still having problems with his sore neck. He noted following Wednesday night’s win in Atlanta that he was still having discomfort and that the neck prevents him from being “able to life my arms.” The center added he only hopes the stiffness is normal since he missed all of that game action.
“I think it was just soreness coming back,” Chandler said. “I didn’t do anything for a few weeks except for getting treatment. [Wednesday night] was my first time getting any contact. It was my first time running just a couple days ago. It’s kind of expected.”
Some, like teammate Raymond Felton, feel it would benefit Chandler if he took some more time off, but the Knicks may not afford him that luxury, especially if Kenyon Martin’s knee doesn’t cooperate. Martin experienced soreness in his right knee in the Hawks game and was kept out of the final 10 minutes for precautionary reasons. And while the bruising power forward said he expects to play Friday against the Bucks, there’s no telling if his knee will stiffen up before then.
The Knicks’ big-man situation has taken numerous hits this season, but the team has managed to adapt well, judging by their first-place status in the Atlantic Division. But even with that success, Chandler and Martin are arguably the two most important bigs on the roster. Chandler’s impact is obvious, given his NBA-championship pedigree and the fact he’s the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner. But Martin’s ascension up the Knicks’ ranks is striking given that he has only appeared in 17 games this season after joining the team via two 10-day contracts after sitting out the first four months of the season.
While Martin didn’t vow to play against the Bucks, he sounded like a guy who intends to be in the rotation. Following the Hawks game, he simply shrugged off his knee as a sign of the crash course he’s given his body following so many months of inactivity.
“It got the best of me [Wednesday night]. I’ll have a day off, get treatment and see how it goes,” said Martin. “I got thrown into the fire. It’s like training camp and preseason all in one. … But I’m a warrior.”
Chandler wouldn’t say whether he’d be ready, though. It also wasn’t encouraging to see the center rubbing on the injured area of his neck from time to time during Wednesday night’s game. Chandler alluded to “the big picture,” which may mean he’s willing to sit out more games so he’s better equipped to handle the rigors of the playoffs.
“It’s tough trying to look up at the ball for rebounds, lobs or high passes. It’s thrown my timing off,” said Chandler, who hasn’t been effective in either of the two games he’s played in since his return. “I’m just a little stiff right now. I’m not as mobile. I’m not there yet. I’m not myself moving around like I normally would.”
Chandler used his stat line in the past two games as further proof that he may not be mobile enough to help right now. Against the Heat Tuesday night he only had one point, and Wednesday night wasn’t much better, as he tallied two points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
If either Chandler or Martin can’t go on Friday, the Knicks will likely turn to the 6-foot-7 Carmelo Anthony and lightly-used reserve Marcus Camby for major minutes on the blocks. As well as Anthony has played at power forward this season, head coach Mike Woodson would much rather see his regular bigs back in the rotation. But if they can’t go, he’ll have no choice but to go very small against a Bucks team that has a lot of size.
Woodson has stated that he doesn’t plan on resting guys before the playoffs unless they come to him.
“If we’ve got key guys who demand that, I’ve got to be open-minded,” Woodson said. “If they don’t demand it, they’re going to play. Every game is important. We want to stay atop our division.”
» Rasheed Wallace had his left boot removed a few days ago, which was the four-week mark of his foot surgery. He is also off crutches. By his current timetable, Wallace, who is traveling with the team, could be back in a month.
» Another ailing big man, Kurt Thomas (stress reaction/stress fracture in his right foot), worked on the elliptical machine for the first time on Wednesday.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.