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Knicks vs. Pacers: Preview and Prediction
Posted By Tommy Beer On May 5, 2013 @ 11:20 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Prior to their first round victory over the Boston Celtics, the last time the New York Knicks had won a postseason series was all the way back in 2000, when they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before being knocked off by their then hatred rivals, the Indiana Pacers.
After over a decade as a doormat and league-wide laughingstock, the Knicks have finally earned the right to be considered contenders. And, once again, the Pacers are also amongst the best teams in the East.
Well, it’s time to renew acquaintances.
Both the Knicks and Pacers finished up their respective first-round series on Friday night, and must quickly re-focus for a Sunday showdown.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown and preview of what to expect:
Surprisingly, Knicks starting point guard Raymond Felton played incredibly well against the Celtics in the first round. Not only was he both efficient and effective on offense, he was often saddled with the unenviable task of slowing down Paul Pierce on the other end of the floor. Felton did an admirable job holding Pierce in check, while also keeping the New York offense humming on the other end of the floor. In fact, Felton was one of just seven players to average at least 17 points (while shooting 47 percent or better) and 5 assists during the first round of the 2013 playoffs. (The other six were: Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Jarrett Jack and LeBron James). It could easily be argued that Felton was the Knicks’ most consistent performer in their testy victory over the Celtics. An encore performance against Indiana may not be expected, but could be necessary.
Felton’s backcourt mates, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni, also exceeded expectations in the opening round. Prigioni was a pest on defense, dished out key assists, and hit big shots in big moments. Shumpert saved his best performance for the sixth and deciding game in Beantown, knocking down three crucial three-pointers and supplying game-changing defensive pressure on the perimeter.
On the other hand, both J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd struggled mightily in round one. Smith’s suspension, erratic shooting, and knuckleheaded comments breathed life into a Celtics team on life-support. The Knicks badly need better decision-making from Smith, both on and off the court, if they hope to defeat Indiana. Smith has been a true “x-factor” all season for New York, and the free-agent to-be needs to show he has finally matured. For Kidd, now 40 years old, maturity is certainly not an issue. However, making positive contributions while he is on the floor is now a major concern. Kidd failed to score a single point over the final four games versus the Celtics. Worse yet, he tallied twice as many turnovers (6) as assists (3) in Games 4 through 6.
Out in Indiana, George Hill played well in round one, helping control the tempo as the Pacers ousted the Hawks. Hill is more of a scorer (third on the team in scoring during both the regular season and the playoffs) than a pure point guard, but he’ll need to take care of the basketball and facilitate the offense against New York. In addition, he’ll be tasked with stopping the red-hot Raymond Felton.
Shooting guard was a cause for concern this season in Indiana, but the enigmatic Lance Stephenson stepped in and stepped up. Not a terribly efficient shooter (he shot below 29 percent on three’s and 67 percent from the free-throw line over the second half of the 2012-13 season), Stephenson is still a good enough athlete to find a way to score points and is one of the game’s most dynamic players in the open court. His immense athleticism also allows him to play solid defense when he is focused and locked in. He and J.R. Smith have had some bad blood and that has spilled over into on-court run-ins, which is something to keep an eye on throughout the series.
D.J. Augustin is a competent backup PG who will give Coach Frank Vogel about 16 minutes a night off the bench. Augustin struggled mightily against the Hawks – shooting just 26.5 percent from the floor. Indiana needs him to knock down some open shots against the Knicks. Gerald Green, who had a disappointing and inconsistent regular season, played fairly well early in the series versus Atlanta – including a 15-point outburst in Game 2; but then scored a total of three points over the final three contests.
Advantage: New York
Carmelo Anthony was absolutely on fire over the final month of the regular season, earning NBA Player of the Month honors in April, and generating some buzz as an MVP candidate. Over the first seven games in April, Melo averaged 38.6 points (shooting a sizzling 55.6 percent shooting from the floor) and 10.6 rebounds. However, Melo’s shooting shockingly and abruptly abandoned him about 10 days ago. Anthony has been in the league 11 years, and has played in over 800 games. Never before in his career (in either the regular season or the playoffs) had he shot below 33 percent from the floor and 17 percent from three-point territory in three consecutive contests – until Games 4 through 6 against the Celtics; including 20 straight misses from behind-the-arc. Melo has downplayed the seriousness of a nagging shoulder injury, but the numbers suggest something is up.
Tyson Chandler, who was nursing a neck injury for much of March and April, had a minimal impact over the first few games against Boston, but finally looked energized and healthy in Game 6. He is the heart and soul of the Knicks defense and his continued improvement is crucial for New York.
Kenyon Martin’s unexpected contributions have been immensely important for the Knicks, especially when Chandler was far from 100 percent. He’ll continue to supply toughness and aggression in a series that will undoubtedly feature plenty of both.
Paul George, the NBA’s Most Improved Player, had a roller-coaster of a first round. He posted a monster triple-double in a dominating performance in Game 1. However, he was ice cold in Game 6, scoring just four points in 44 minutes. Nonetheless, we know George will stuff the stat sheet even if his shot isn’t falling; he was the only NBA player to average over 18 points, 9 boards and 5 assists in first-round action.
David West has long been one of the more under-appreciated big men in the league. However, if he can help carry Indiana to the Eastern Conference Finals, he may finally start to get the recognition he deserves (just in time for him to cash in as a free agent this summer). During the regular season, West averaged 18.5 points (on nearly 50 percent shooting) and over 8 rebounds a night. Those numbers dipped a bit against Atlanta. They have to spike for Indiana to beat NY. More importantly, West will likely frequently find himself matched up with Carmelo Anthony, who often plays at the power forward spot for New York. This is obviously a difficult assignment for the powerful, but slow-footed West. Look for Melo to draw West out and then attack off the dribble. The Knicks’ goal may be to get West into foul trouble.
After signing a lucrative long-term contract this summer, Roy Hibbert struggled mightily over the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, but he’s been a much more effective player on both ends of the floor since the All-Star Break. He continued that solid play in round one. The battle between he and Tyson Chandler for boards and blocks will be a pivotal matchup all series long.
Tyler Hansbrough is the Pacers’ designated banger and paint protector whenever he is on the floor. Much like Kenyon Martin, the numbers may not always be there, but the effort and intensity will. He and K-Mart will see plenty of each other, which could get interesting.
J.R. Smith earned the Sixth Man of the Year award for his excellence off the bench during the regular season. Yet, his play was anything but award-worthy in round one. Will he bounce back in the Conference Semifinals? Other than Melo, Smith is the only other player on the Knicks roster than can create his own shot and NY obviously needs him to fill his role as a secondary scorer. If both he and Melo are missing shots, the Knicks will have an incredibly difficult time scoring against the remarkably stingy Pacer defense. (Over the final two games against Atlanta, Indiana held the Hawks to a total of just 156 points.)
Steve Novak was held out of Game 6 due to back spasms, and appears unlikely to suit up for Game 1. Chris Copeland, a capable offensive option, may see minutes in his place.
The complete wildcard is Amar’e Stoudemire, who is working his way back from knee surgery. Stoudemire has been practicing and Coach Mike Woodson has said that Amar’e will sit out first two games of the series, but will practice during the three off days between Games 2 and 3, and if all goes well and Stoudemire’s body responds positively – we could see STAT in Game 3.
We know the aforementioned Tyler Hansbrough will look to mix it up; the other bigs that will see some time off the bench for Indiana are Jeff Pendergraph and Ian Mahinmi. Both possess somewhat limited skill sets, but could play more if either West or Hibbert find themselves in foul trouble. D.J. Augustin will need to relocate his shooting stoke, especially in a series where points will be at a premium. The wild card for the Pacers is Gerald Green, a true “boom-or-bust” player.
Edge: New York
Mike Woodson had a stupendous regular season, guiding the Knicks to 54 wins and may garner some Coach of the Year votes. However, Woodson has won just five of his last 16 playoff games as a head coach, and the Boston series was not his best work. The Knicks’ offense was supremely sluggish at times, as they relied way too heavily on an isolation-centric attack. Woodson acknowledged the need for his team to improve ball movement and push the pace against Boston, and the same sentiments certainly hold true against the Pacers as well. It is imperative that Knicks run more pick-and-rolls, primarily with Ray Felton as the ball handler and Tyson Chandler as the screener. It was New York’s most effective weapon in round one, but was utilized far too infrequently. We’ll see if Woodson can get the offense back on track against one of the NBA’s toughest teams to score against.
Frank Vogel doesn’t get much national recognition, but he is quietly earning a reputation as one of the finest young coaches in the sport. The Pacers were forced to play without one of their best all-around players (Danny Granger) all season, but still managed to capture a Central Division title and the #3 seed in the East. Coaches, much like players, truly earn their stripes in the postseason. In order for Indiana to advance, they’ll have to control the tempo and makes this series as ugly as possible. Pace will be a crucial factor; if the scores are in the 80’s, the Pacers have a great chance to win. If we see 100’s on the scoreboard, Indiana is likely in trouble. Can Vogel emulate Doc Rivers successful tactics in limited Melo’s offensive effectiveness? Can the Pacers thwart the Knicks pick-and-roll? We shall see…
Prediction: New York Knicks in 7
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