After a brief hiatus for the All-Star festivities, the NBA returns in full force this week with a loaded schedule that includes one of the most intriguing Eastern Conference battles between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers.
These two teams used to be great rivals during the Reggie Miller and Patrick Ewing era, including that memorable postseason game when Miller scored eight points in 11 seconds in 1995.
Even though the rivalry isn't quite back up to that level, it is at least fun to watch with both teams playing so well and being strong contenders in the Eastern Conference. To whet your appetite for the showdown, here is all you need to know about the Knicks and Pacers right now.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
When: Wed., Feb. 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Knicks Injuries (via ESPN.com)
Day-to-Day: F Carmelo Anthony (Arm)
Out: F Rasheed Wallace (Foot)
Pacers Injuries (via ESPN.com)
Will offense or defense rule the day?
The Knicks and Pacers have the same number of wins (32), but they go about things in very different manners.
The Knicks are more likely to spread things out on the floor—or isolate the offense for Carmelo Anthony—and try to punch the Pacers in the mouth by shooting the ball. They are a good defensive team, capable of shutting the Pacers down, but their bread and butter is on offense.
The Pacers are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. They are also the best defensive and rebounding team in the league, which is why they are able to have so much success even though they have just four players averaging more than 10 points per game.
In a game like this, you would think that the Knicks have a decided advantage. After all, they can win a low- or high-scoring game and the Pacers don't have enough offensive firepower to do that.
However, the Pacers are the second-best home team in the NBA with a 21-5 record. They have held 17 of those 26 opponents under 90 points.
Don't be shocked if points are hard to come by for both teams in this game, as these two teams know how to keep the ball out of the hoop better than most in the NBA.
Key Matchup: Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul George
If we are going to make the key to the game be about which team will have an easier time scoring, we might as well highlight the forward matchup between the teams' leading scorers.
Carmelo Anthony is dealing with an arm contusion, though he did play 31 minutes and score 26 points in the All-Star Game, so it doesn't seem to be a big issue for him.
The biggest reason for the success of the Knicks this season has been the bounce-back campaign for Anthony. He has been healthy and shooting the ball well as a member of the Knicks.
It also helps that Anthony is making an effort on the defensive side of the ball. He is second on the team with 5.0 defensive rebounds per game.
George just continues to get better for the Pacers. Now in his third season, the small forward is averaging career highs in points (17.6), rebounds (7.8), assists (4.0), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.7).
The injury to Danny Granger left a lot of question marks for this Pacers team coming into the season, but George has made the transition much easier. And he is the biggest reason they are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference right now.
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
Smith has been terrific for the Knicks off the bench this season. He doesn't have a great shot, as evidenced by the fact he is shooting just 40 percent from the field, but he always provides that spark the team needs when he comes into games.
The Pacers can stop anyone on the inside with their size, so the Knicks' best chance to win this game is to take advantage of their edge on the outside. Anthony and Smith are the engines that make the machine go.
When Smith is on top of his game, the Knicks are as difficult to stop as anyone in the Eastern Conference. He went into the All-Star break in glorious fashion, scoring 26 points against Toronto. This will be a much tougher task, so he has to step up his game one more time.
Projected Starting Lineups
New York Knicks
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Jason Kidd
SF: Iman Shumpert
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Tyson Chandler
PG: George Hill
SG: Lance Stephenson
SF: Paul George
PF: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
The Knicks have more ways to win than the Pacers, so it would be easy to predict them and be done with it.
However, there is something about this Pacers team at home that just makes me think they can stop anyone in their path.
Pacers 93, Knicks 88