The New York Knicks host the Indiana Pacers tonight in a game where both teams come into tonight riding a multiple game winning streak. To get a better idea of what the Knicks have in store for them tonight I brought in Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows to preview tonight’s game.
The Pacers won just two of their six games to start this month, but since then have won four straight. Granted, they’ve been against lottery-bound teams, but every win matters as the team tries to lock up the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. What do you make of the Pacers play of late? Are you confident they’ll finish strong and get the 1 seed?
Tom: In the prior three seasons, the Pacers have hit a lull during the first half of March and then righted the ship to close out the season, which is why I haven’t panicked over the recent mediocre play. The stakes and pressure on the team are higher this year, but I’m confident the Pacers will finish strong and be ready for the playoffs, but that may not be enough to hold onto the top seed in the East. Before the end of March, the Pacers play Chicago twice, Memphis, Miami, Washington and San Antonio, so we should have a much better sense of where they stand compared to the Heat by April 1. Tonight at MSG they begin their sink or swim stretch at a place which usually brings out a strong effort.
It’s only a small sample size but Evan Turner is shooting 46 percent from 3, 63 percent from the corner, since being a member of the Indiana Pacers. How is he fitting in with the club offensively and defensively in your opinion? Could he play a significant role for the team come playoff time?
Tom: Turner has shown flashes of great and bad and about everything in-between, but the best thing he’s shown is his versatility off the bench to help generate some offense for the Pacers reserve unit. Due to a variety of injuries, Turner was thrown into the fire right after the trade and forced to run the reserve team as a point guard, even when he only knew a few plays. No one died and they even won some games, but he does dominate the ball and takes a ton of shots. That three-point shot is shaky despite the recent success and not something opponents are bothering to cover. I guess if he keeps making one or two per game that could change, but regardless he will play a big role going into the playoffs. Hopefully, C.J. Watson will be healthy by then and Turner’s role in the rotation will be better defined.
The Pacers are first in the league in defensive efficiency and second in rebounding rate. What makes them so dominant in those two areas?
Tom: The Pacers’ success is built on their defense which is the primary focus for everything they do. The starting unit is long and athletic with Roy Hibbert roaming the post to defend the rim which allows the other defenders to remain aggressive. When I say long, I mean throughout the whole starting lineup they are able to cover a lot of ground. George Hill has a 6’9 wingspan, Lance Stephenson 6’10, Paul George 6’11, David West 7’4 and then Hibbert around 7’5. They also send wings to crash the glass, although their offensive rebound numbers have dropped off this year, which is likely a result on trying to shore up their transition defense
Paul George got off to a really hot start early in the year and because of that he was thrust into the spotlight as an early MVP favorite. Because of his stellar play early his game has been under intense, albeit unfair, scrutiny for the most part. What do you make of George’s season as a whole?
Tom: Paul George has had a second incredible season and seems to be playing quite well once again after hitting a dead spot around the All-Star break. I definitely think the talk of his rising status among the league’s elite players impacted his game for a time and he tried to start doing too much with the ball which isn’t his game. He will never get credit for the defensive effort he puts in on the other team’s best player for every game. People applaud his elite defensive effort, but when it comes time to start comparing elite players, the default is always to look at the offensive numbers. But at 23, PG’s improvement from last year at this time is impressive and if then compared to where he was 16 months ago at the start of last season, the jump is astronomical. The best thing about this season is he’s learning (the hard way in some instances) how to be the top dog for a top team. Fortunately, he still has a great supporting cast.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Tom: Based on the last couple of weeks, I have no reason to think the Pacers will rise up and play a solid 48 minutes, especially against a team in the Knicks that have found some combinations that are working. But I still think stepping onto the court at MSG combined with the grind the Pacers are in to raise their level of play will trigger an effort from the starting unit that will lead to a win. The Knicks have been lighting it up of late, but if the Pacers win it will be with defense and keeping the home team under 100 points.