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NBA Power Rankings: How the Knicks vs. Pacers Game Could Be a Playoff Preview

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NBA Power Rankings: How the Knicks vs. Pacers Game Could Be a Playoff Preview
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Amar'e Stoudemire is out and Jeremy Lin has joined him.  These aren't the same New York Knicks that defeated the Indiana Pacers in back-to-back games just over two weeks ago.

Back then, the Knicks were in the midst of a five-game winning streak under new coach Mike Woodson.  In a season of highs and lows, New York was riding the wave.

Now they may be on the verge of a deep, deep valley in this up-and-down season, as Indiana represents the start of a series of games against playoff-bound teams (@Indiana, @Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, @Chicago).

Immediately after this stretch, they play their rival for the final spot in the playoffs: The Milwaukee Bucks will host New York on April 11.

But if the Knicks can band together and finish strong, there is a chance that they could meet Indiana in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In order for that to happen, the Knicks would have to leapfrog both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks.

The 76ers stand 2.5 games ahead of the Knicks and have been inconsistent.  After starting the season hot and reaching as many as 11 games over .500 (20-9 on February 13), the Sixers have since gone 9-14.

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The Hawks are 3.5 games ahead, but have one last game against the Knicks.  Similar to the Sixers, the Hawks reached their high-water mark of 18-9 in mid-February, but have since gone 13-14.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have caught fire at 8-2 over their last 10.  While they are short-handed, Carmelo Anthony has proven that he can carry a team when he is the focal point of the offense, as he surely will be over the remaining 13 games.

The Knicks will face the Pacers with the opportunity of sweeping them on the season.  While a win over the Pacers will not help Indiana gain ground on Orlando for the only non-division winner to host a first round series, Dwight Howard's injured back will.

Indiana trails Orlando by only half a game for the privilege of home court advantage, and Orlando may have to play without Howard and Ryan Anderson.  The duo is ranked one and two on the Magic in both points and rebounds.

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With such a small lead, one or two games missed by Orlando's top players could mean all the difference between being seeded No. 3 or being seeded No. 5.

The Knicks should hope for a matchup with a No. 3 seed Indiana, especially if they can win the final regular season game against them.

 

Imagine how an 0-3 regular season record, with two home losses, would negate the advantage that the Pacers would have by gaining home field.

Of the playoff teams in the east, Indiana is the one team that lacks a true superstar.  As a very young team that also has an average point guard in Darren Collison, the Pacers are already a vulnerable playoff team; a third failure in the regular season would prime them for an upset.

They represent the best first-round scenario that the Knicks could realistically get, and likely the only one that they could advance past short-handed.

Carmelo Anthony is talented enough to carry the Knicks past the Pacers in a seven game series, thus paving the way for Jeremy Lin to return in the second round.

Now, all the Knicks need to do is win.

Now.

And again the next game. And so on and so forth, until they have improved their playoff position.

It won't be easy, but nothing about this season has been.

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