After a frustrating loss to the rival Boston Celtics on January 7, the New York Knicks will look to get back on the right track by hitting the road. Unfortunately for them, it does not get any easier there. The team is set to face the Indiana Pacers, a team that has gotten hot after a sluggish start.
Working in the Knicks' favor is that they have already faced the Pacers once this year. Both teams squared off at Madison Square Garden on November 18, and New York's tough defense resulted in a victory.
But that was in New York, and home-court advantage is always a factor. The Knicks now must face the Pacers, fresh off an upset win against the Miami Heat, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana has gone 13-3 at home, and a win against the New York would be its third in a row.
Of course, the Knicks will be playing a bit angry following their loss to the Celtics, and the drama between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett will have them wanting to play even better against a team as hot as the Pacers.
This game has the makings of another intense defensive battle, and one that is not to be missed.
Time: Thursday, January 10th, 8:00 p.m. EST
Records: New York Knicks (23-11) vs. Indiana Pacers (21-14)
Betting Line: Not available as of Wednesday, January 9, 4:42 p.m. EST
Injuries: Carmelo Anthony (suspension, out), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Rasheed Wallace (knee, out), Raymond Felton (finger, out), J.R. Smith (face, day-to-day), Danny Granger (knee, out), George Hill (flu, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Knicks Look for Rebound in Indy Following Emotional Loss to Celtics
Whenever the Knicks play the Celtics, it's obvious that there will be some fireworks. The teams do not like each other, and Kevin Garnett made sure it stayed that way by going at it with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. In the teams' game against one another on January 7, both players received technical fouls when they would not stop jawing at each other.
The battle continued off the court, with Anthony waiting to talk to Garnett outside the Celtics' team bus. The former Syracuse star claims that the beef is over, but the Knicks face an uphill battle without him tonight. Due to his actions after the game, Anthony has been suspended for this game.
The Pacers have gone 11-3 since December 9, significantly improving their standing in both the Central Division and the Eastern Conference. They are out to slay giants, but the New York Knicks are one that could prove challenging.
As talented as Indiana is, its players are still very young and inexperienced. On top of that, star scorer Danny Granger is still out with a knee injury.
Most important of all is that the Knicks have already beaten the Pacers once, in New York on November 18. Carmelo Anthony's 26 points and nine rebounds were enough to bring home an 88-76 victory for New York, as Indiana looked anemic from start to finish. Paul George led with 20 points, but 19 turnovers sealed the Pacers' fate.
The shoe is on the other foot now. Indiana is now the hotter team, and they have home-court advantage. Seeing as how both squads have a history between them that goes back to the 1990s, expect this game to be just as intense as the first one, if not more so.
Key Matchup: Roy Hibbert vs. Tyson Chandler
With Mike Woodson as their head coach, the Knicks have become a team that is all about defense. Center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler has embraced this approach and is absolutely flourishing in Woodson's system.
Chandler has averaged 12.8 points and 10.5 rebounds this season, and he also leads the NBA in field-goal percentage at 69 percent. His last five games have been even better, during which he has averaged 13.6 points and 13.6 boards, shooting an astonishing 72 percent from the field.
The man can simply do it all. He plays tough defense, never backs down from a battle and has thrown down some of the most emphatic dunks any Knicks fan has ever seen.
The Pacers will need to shut Chandler down to even have a remote shot at beating the Knicks, and that means Roy Hibbert must be at the top of his game. He has the size advantage, standing 7'2", 280 pounds compared to the 7'1", 240-pound Chandler, but his overall performance this season has been uninspiring.
Hibbert as averaged 2.7 blocks on the year, but only 9.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. He has also shot an unimpressive 40 percent from the field. For someone of his size and position, that is simply unacceptable.
Both men battled to a near-stalemate in their teams' previous meeting, with Chandler having seven points and nine rebounds compared to six and eight from Hibbert, who also committed six turnovers. In this matchup, Hibbert has no choice but to be the better man.
This means keeping Chandler away from the rim and boxing him out on every missed basket. It means giving him zero opportunities to be explosive, not at all easy to do against a reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Hibbert thus has an uphill battle ahead of him, but he can't do anything except go into it hoping for the best. Anthony had an off game against the Celtics, so perhaps it will be Chandler's turn against the Pacers.
X-Factor: David West
When the Pacers first played the Knicks, they really could have used a better effort from West. He scored 14 points and had seven rebounds, but did not use his 6'9", 250-pound frame as well as he could have. Instead of being a stretch forward who also provided tough defense, the man just appeared to be playing a very passive game.
Simply put, that cannot happen again against the Knicks. West must play aggressively on both sides of the floor, looking to be the other half of a one-two punch with Paul George. He has averaged 16.7 points and eight rebounds this season but has slumped as of late.
Over his last five games, West has averaged just 11 points on 32 percent shooting. His rebounding has been fine at 8.4 boards per game, but it's clear that he's been in a funk on offense.
Granted, West did perform well against the Miami Heat on January 8, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and pulling down 11 boards, but he needs to prove against the Knicks that he can put up that kind of production and then some on a regular basis.
He'll have a hard time doing that against New York, whose fiery commitment to defense shut down the Pacers earlier in the season. All West can do is hope that he is playing harder than his opponent, as that will be the key to him having a good game.
His succeeding will diversify the Pacers' offense and not make them rely solely on George or hold their breath on Hibbert. The key to defeating New York is balance, and West can provide plenty of that with a solid game.
This game is on national television and is going to be close. Indiana ranks first in rebounding and second in points allowed. The Knicks respectively rank 27th and 13th in those departments.
Unfortunately, the Pacers' inexperience will catch up with them against New York. After an emotional win against Miami, the team is bound to come back down to Earth at least a little bit. The Knicks' fifth-ranked offense will thus take control in the fourth quarter, while the Pacers' 29th-ranked scoring game will go into desperation mode.
The whole Knicks team will come through in the clutch once again, sinking the key shots they need to sink late in the game. J.R. Smith will continue his hot streak off the bench, and Tyson Chandler will dominate the slow-footed Hibbert in the paint.
Indiana will thus be forced to rely on Paul George and David West to carry the offense, and the lack of a consistent Hibbert against the fiery Knicks will sink them. About midway through the fourth quarter, they will abandon their tough defensive mindset and resort to just trying to finish the game with more points.
This will present the Knicks with the opportunity to close out the game for good, even if it means fighting off a last-minute surge by the Pacers. New York will win, and Indiana's youth will be exposed.
New York Knicks 103, Indiana Pacers 98