By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Pacers | Banker's Life Fieldhouse
When: Thursday | 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (15-23): The Knicks return to Indiana, the place where last season ended after a hard-fought playoff series. They'll be looking to get back on track after a five-game winning streak came to an end Tuesday night in Charlotte. On the second night of a back-to-back, New York was unable to contain Bobcats big man Al Jefferson and speedy guard Kemba Walker, halting the momentum that had been building during a 6-1 stretch to start 2014. On the bright side, Tyson Chandler returned from an upper respiratory infection and could be in line for more run after playing about 17 minutes. Amar'e Stoudemire (17 points on 10 shots) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11 points in the first half) also stood out for their play off the bench.
Indiana (30-7): The Pacers have only improved since last year's playoff series, due in large part to the organization's continuity. Go-to guy Paul George has upped his efficiency as a scorer and remains one of the NBA's premier wing defenders. Knicks fans remember Roy Hibbert as the rim protector and low post threat. Lance Stephenson has come on as a dangerous all-around playmaker at shooting guard and David West is the same pick-and-pop monster he's always been. For the second straight year, Indy ranks first in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Numbers Game
Stoudemire's resurgence after a litany of knee injuries has been one of the best stories on the Knicks this season. Over his last 11 games, the big man is averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Lance Stephenson
After the sting of defeat began to subside, perhaps the lasting image of Game 6 in Indiana last spring was the performance of Shumpert, who scored 16 points in a span of just over six minutes and nearly forced a Game 7 back at MSG. After a slow start to the season, he has begun to settle into his role in the new year, doing whatever it takes for the Knicks to win. He's rebounding the ball like crazy and knocking down three-pointers at a 40-percent clip. He'll have his hands full with Stephenson, who has harnessed his talents on both ends of the floor to become a vital part of the Pacers' title hopes.
What to Look For
Competing with Indiana's size has always been a priority for the Knicks, so keep an eye on how Coach Mike Woodson utilizes Chandler, Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin. Who knows, Jeremy Tyler and/or Cole Aldrich could even get an opportunity to use their six fouls. Chandler could be in line for more minutes in his second game back and his newfound jumper could come in handy against Hibbert, who loves to hang around the hoop. Indy has gotten better at protecting the ball, but still rank 18th in turnovers and could be prone to mistakes if the Knicks can turn up the pressure. On the flip side, the Knicks' trademark remains their ball security, and keeping that up tonight against the Pacers' length could give them a shot to win...Tonight is the beginning of a back-to-back set that continues tomorrow at home against the Clippers.