By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Pistons | Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday | 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (3-7): The Knicks "have to figure this out," as Carmelo Anthony said following last night's loss in Detroit. They've dropped three in a row and are hoping to avoid their sixth straight loss at Madison Square Garden when they play the Pacers tonight. The rotation is in flux, with Tyson Chandler still out and Raymond Felton now affected by a lower back/left hip injury, so the challenge will be on others to step up. There's an all-hands-on-deck approach, with both Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire doing what they can to make up for the hole up front.
Indiana (9-1): The Pacers are off to the best record in the Eastern Conference. They look similar to the team that beat the Knicks in six games in last year's playoffs (great defense, prefer to play at a very slow pace), although many of their young cornerstones seem to have taken another step forward in their development. Paul Geoge, fresh off his Most Improved Player award, is averaging 23 points a game and looking like a future star. Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson appears to have gone from mercurial talent to bona fide difference maker at the 2. Four of their five starters are 27 or younger, so this team is just hitting its stride.
The Numbers Game
Stoudemire chipped in six points and five rebounds in 15 minutes last night in Detroit, all season highs.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Lance Stephenson
Two of the bright young shooting guards in the NBA, both can be keys to their teams' success. Stephenson has been a highly-touted prospect since his days at Lincoln high school, and with free agency looming at the end of this season, he's picked a great time to realize his potential. Larry Bird and the Pacers have invested a lot of effort in his development, and "Born Ready" is rewarding them this season with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He's also shooting 45 percent from three. Shump continues to play efficiently (39 percent from three), but is still figuring out how he fits into the offensive plan.
What to Look For
Much has changed for these two teams since last spring, when they staged a thrilling playoff series in the Eastern Conference Semis. The Knicks could have been within a Roy Hibbert block of forcing a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, at which point anything could have happened. Instead, the Pacers have taken the next step, while the Knicks scramble to replace their injured leader in the middle (Chandler) and engine behind their offensive attack (Felton). Beno Udrih started at point guard last night and played 18 minutes after being limited so far this season. He could start again tonight, although Pablo Prigioni played more minutes (23).