Knicks @ Pacers 7 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
New York: On Monday afternoon, the Knicks took advantage of a rare practice day to prepare for a pivotal stretch of games this upcoming week. At 27-26, New York owns a lead of 2.5 games above Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The squad will have to become road warriors with four of its next five games on the road against postseason contenders. Not only will the Knicks face stiff competition throughout the final month of the season but the team will have to succeed without some key pieces on the roster. Last Saturday, New York announced that Jeremy Lin will have surgery to repair a small lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. The procedure will force Lin to miss approximately six weeks. Additionally, Amar’e Stoudemire is out due to a bulging disk in his back and he’s sidelined for the next 1-3 weeks.
Indiana: Since falling to the Knicks in back-to-back games in mid March, the Pacers are 6-3 and fresh off a two-point overtime victory over the Rockets. The recent surge from Indiana has the team at 31-21 in a four-team dogfight for playoff positioning. At the moment, the Pacers hold the No. 5 spot as of Monday’s standings and will have a brutal set of contests against the Thunder and Celtics this upcoming Friday and Saturday. Indiana is healthy heading into the stretch run but the team will have to battle fatigue issues after the extra period game in Houston on Sunday.
Last Time Out
New York: On Saturday night, New York bounced back after a tough loss in Atlanta on Friday. The Knicks shutdown the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter en route to a 91-75 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Indiana: As mentioned above, the Pacers escaped Houston with a 104-102 overtime victory that featured 32 points from Danny Granger.
The Numbers Game
New York held Cleveland to just 75 points on 39 percent shooting from the floor on Saturday night. The staunch defensive effort improved the Knicks to 18-1 when they hold their opponents under 90 points.
Match-up to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Danny Granger
Granger may have sparked a fire for the Knicks when he made the statement that the back-to-back games against New York were “very winnable” on March 16 and 17. The Pacers leading scorer has only averaged 10 points per game in the two meetings and shot 30 percent from the floor. While Indiana utilizes a balanced scoring attack, Granger is the team’s best offensive weapon. Granger averages 19.8 points per game in the Pacers wins as opposed to 15.6 in their losses. Over his last 10 games, the six-year veteran is posting 20 points each outing in 33.2 minutes of court time. With interim head coach Mike Woodson’s small-ball lineup, the expectation is that rookie Iman Shumpert will draw the defensive assignment against Granger on Tuesday night. Shumpert has the size, strength, and speed to effectively limit Granger’s impact on the game. Also, the rookie is averaging 1.8 steals per game as the best on-ball defender for the Knicks. Offensively, Shumpert has been in attack mode over the last week and will look to wear down Granger on both sides of the floor in Indiana.
What to Look For
The Pacers are at their best when controlling the glass and spreading out the offensive productivity throughout the roster. Six Indiana players average double figures in points with Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill not that far behind. In this matchup, the Pacers will search for revenge after suffering two blowout defeats in March. The question for the Knicks is if they can sustain 48 minutes of defensive pressure on the two frontline Indiana big men and the versatile wing players, Granger and Paul George. The play of J.R. Smith and Steve Novak off the bench could be the determining factor in the contest, considering both players have combined for 43 points in the two contests this year against Indiana.