“He’s a big piece to what we do,” Coach Mike Woodson said after the loss Tuesday.
While Carmelo Anthony leads the Knicks in scoring and captures most of the headlines, Chandler has been one of the team’s steadying influences over the past three seasons. He has an authoritative voice in the locker room, and he long ago established himself as one of the league’s top post defenders.
Despite being hindered late last season by a bulging disk in his neck, Chandler returned to training camp recharged and in good physical condition after adding 15 pounds to his frame. He entered Tuesday’s game averaging 9 points and 11.3 rebounds.
The Knicks lack frontcourt depth. Without Chandler, Woodson will need to cobble together minutes from a mix of aging players and inexperienced reserves. Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire, who have strict limits on their playing time, combined for 28 minutes against the Bobcats. Cole Aldrich, a 6-foot-11 center who made the team as a nonroster invitee to training camp, has not appeared in a game.
One of Woodson’s early-season goals was to develop chemistry among a larger starting lineup that featured Chandler at center and Andrea Bargnani at power forward. Woodson suddenly has no choice but to abandon that plan, which was off to a sputtering start anyway.
Woodson, in an interview Wednesday on ESPN Radio, said he would revert to a small-ball lineup when the Knicks visit the Bobcats on Friday: Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt, with Iman Shumpert at small forward, Anthony at power forward and Bargnani at center. (J. R. Smith, a high-octane swingman, could claim one of those spots after completing his suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.)
The Knicks hope that the group is capable of generating so much offense that it offsets any soft spots on defense.
Soft spots seem inevitable. The Knicks were holding opponents to 92.2 points per 100 possessions when Chandler was on the court through four games. Without him, that number soared to 105.6 — a difference of 13.4 points per 100 possessions.
Bargnani, a 7-footer whose defense has been generously assessed by the Knicks as a work in progress, has a total of eight rebounds this season, and opposing offenses have treated him like a piñata, averaging 116.3 points per 100 possessions whenever he appears on the floor. The Knicks seem to play their best defense with Bargnani rooted to the bench, limiting teams to 84.5 points per 100 possessions.
“Defensively, we are all over the place right now,” Woodson said, “and that’s a reflection of me as a coach.”
Chandler sustained his injury in the first quarter, when the Bobcats’ Kemba Walker tumbled into him on a drive to the basket. Chandler left the game for X-rays that the team said were inconclusive. Additional tests Wednesday morning revealed a broken fibula.
Dr. David Forsh, an orthopedic surgeon and the chief of orthopedic trauma at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said nondisplaced fractures were typically less severe than displaced fractures because the bone fragments had remained in place.
“It does usually take about four to six weeks for the bone to heal,” said Forsh, who was speaking generally and had no direct knowledge of Chandler’s case. “And then he would require some physical therapy to recondition his leg, which obviously is not going to be in use for a while.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Steve Clifford, the Bobcats’ coach, identified two keys to successful defenses. The first, he said, is to have a rim protector like Chandler. The second is to have a power forward who is a “multiple-effort defender,” meaning someone who can guard pick-and-rolls, match up in the post and play solid team defense.
Those two players form the foundation, Clifford said. Everything starts with them.
The Knicks were getting by with one, which was tough enough. Now the real challenge begins.