The inevitably of the New York Knicks having to get through the Indiana Pacers at some point this season has been apparent. Throughout the year, the Pacers were generally considered to be the top challenger in the East to the Miami Heat due to their defense, size and how competitively they played them last season in a best of seven series. Yet, the late season tear the Knicks finished the season on to lock down the two seed has given them more credibility as a viable competitor to the Heat. These two teams are a contrast in a style. The Pacers are a plodding, physical, defensive juggernaut who lacks an elite lead scorer and an ability to hurt you with their outside shooting. The Knicks are a three-point chucking team led by an elite scorer, who occasionally will fall into heavy isolation ball and stretches of poor defense.
Let’s run through our thoughts on the series, along with our predictions including “The Pacer Most Likely To Inspire A Fawning Harvey Araton Column”, “Most Likely Poorly Planned Knicks Pre-Game Stunt” , “Most Likely Incident To Encourage Mike Woodson To Change Facial Expressions” and finally “Bi-Polar Knicks Fans Tweeting To Watch For”
1. Bad Habits, Bigger Consequences - If the Knicks fall into their stagnant isolation ball, the Pacers defense is going to eat them alive. They have substantially more athleticism than the Celtics and will make the Knicks pay for those long stretches lacking ball movement on offense. Paul George and Lance Stephenson are physical wing defenders who won’t make life easy for Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith. Anthony will also have to deal with David West when he gets down into the post, where you can bet West will be leaning on Melo’s shoulder as frequently as possible. There will be no easy baskets or looks for Anthony or Smith, both of whom have been struggling with their shot recently.
2. Flat Top Factor - Iman Shumpert is playing the best basketball of his NBA career right now and has the ability to be the x-factor in this series. Zach Lowe of Grantland pointed out yesterday that Indiana frequently likes to hide David West on Shumpert, who will allow him to roam free on the perimeter. If Shumpert can consistently make the Pacers pay for leaving him open by knocking down his open threes, the Knicks are going to be in terrific shape, even if Anthony and Smith are having one of their colder nights from the field. Shumpert should also see plenty of action on Paul Geroge, the Pacers leading scorer and most dynamic playmaker on offense. If George is struggling to create points, the Pacers are going to have a tough time cracking 85 against the Knicks.
3. Bench Battles - The Knicks bench cooled off substantially in Game 4-6 of the Celtics series. After averaging 30 points per game through the first three games, they only averaged 14 points per game over the final three. A banged up Steve Novak and cold shooting (and absence) from JR Smith, along with Jason Kidd heavily contributed to that. Unless Gerald Green happens to get going, the Pacers lack any firepower off their bench. Outside of a big performance in game 2 against Atlanta, their second unit only averaged 18 points per game. Outside of more consistency from Smith, the Knicks need to get some kind of point production from somewhere else…whether it is Kidd knocking down a few threes, Steve Novak getting back on the court, Chris Copeland becoming part of the rotation again, or GASP…Amare Stoudemire returning (which is expected to happen in Game 3).
4. Inevitable Technicals - How long until there is a JR Smith/Lance Stephenson dustup? Or Tyler Hansbrough bothers Tyson Chandler into getting one? The Knicks MUST keep their composure throughout this series. Indiana is a physical team who will be looking to bait them. The Knicks had a total of SEVEN technical fouls in their four games against the Pacers this year, including at least one in every single game. The Pacers only had two throughout the year against the Knicks and both were from Lance Stephenson. As you might guess JR Smith led the Knicks with three technicals and one ejection. Somebody get him to meditation before these games.
5. Healthy Tyson - Tyson Chandler finally looked 100% last night, a HUGE plus for the Knicks on both ends. Roy Hibbert has had a generally rough season but remains a strong defender. If Tyson can win the battle of the centers, it will make it that much harder for Indiana to muster up enough production to keep pace with the Knicks.
6. PABLO-SANITY - Never want to forget Pablo who decided to become an offensive factor last night….because none of us can get enough flat footed threes. His presence always helps the Knicks offense move more smoothly and let’s hope Mike Woodson isn’t gun shy with his and Shumpert’s minutes.
MOST LIKELY PACER TO ENCOURAGE FAWNING HARVEY ARATON ARTICLE - An honor inspired by Terrence WIlliams who Araton churned out this sappy piece on including paragraphs like this -
“Somewhere, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird and other pass-happy leaders of Boston’s august N.B.A. history were exhaling Auerbachian puffs of pleasure. At least one side in this newly energized Eastern Conference playoff series was still emphasizing ball movement, the most basic of basketball tenets.”
GAH!!! Let’s go with JEFF PENDERGRAPH. The Pacers mediocre backup power forward, who is basically a poor man’s PJ Brown. He should be good for a 8 point, 5 rebound performance that inspires words like this -
“Somewhere, Pat Riley runs a gleeful handful of gel through his hair as he smiles on Pendergraph’s selfless hustle, grittiness, and willingness to embrace his modicum of a role for the good of the team…a preeminent tenet adhered to by the basketball gods.”
MOST LIKELY POORLY PLANNED KNICKS PRE-GAME STUNT - After the failed funeral of Game 5 against the Boston Celtics, let’s go with Kenyon Martin insisting this series game 5 will be a “picnic…so ya’ll Knicks fans better show up prepared, we will.” We can already see JR Smith walking into Madison Square Garden wearing the plaid shirt and carrying the basket while James White lugs in the sandwiches behind him.
MOST LIKELY INCIDENT TO CAUSE MIKE WOODSON TO CHANGE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS - A double technical on Lance Stephenson and JR Smith halfway through the first quarter tomorrow, which will cause Woodson to stroke his goat-tee thoughtfully, shake his head and remember nobody in New York City has better facial hair than him…allowing him to remain calm and keep JR in the game.
BI-POLAR KNICKS FAN TWEETING TO WATCH FOR – Casual disinterest in Amare returning to the line-up…loud calls for Amare after a sluggish bench performance early in the series…anger at Amare’s awful defense…happiness when he scores after an awkward post move…demands that he gets back on the bench after missing an assignment on defense. THEY SHOULD BE PLAYING EARL BARRON BEFORE HIM!
PREDICTION If the Bulls beat Brooklyn tonight, I will have nailed every Eastern Conference first round prediction down to the game. Don’t bother looking at those Western Conference picks…really there is no need.
Regardless, I am feeling irrationally confident about my ability to pick Eastern Conference playoff series and I am taking the KNICKS IN SIX.
Yes, I think with the playoff series win monkey off their back, the Knicks play loose and comfortable in this series, build a 3-1 lead…lose the game 5 “picnic game” but then handle business in Game 6.
Regardless of who wins the Nets/Bulls game tonight, I am taking the Heat in 5.
Out West? Let’s go with Memphis in 6 and San Antonio in 6.