Knicks and Pacers look to improve as they face off
The New York Knicks remain an enigma. A talented team on paper, the Knicks continue to struggle for relevance despite the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference. The Knickerbockers have managed to secure a plus .500 record only three times in the last 15 years; that was during the ‘golden era’ of 2010/11 to the 2012/13 season. And the darlings of New York are firmly on course to record another sub .500 season for the 4th year in row. Sorry numbers for a team that has won two Championships and have claimed eight divisional titles
The Knicks ended a six-game run of losses when they avenged the home loss to Milwaukee Bucks with a win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Bucks home arena. The win was significant, not only because it ended a six-game slump, but because it also marked the first time in six years and 109 games that the Knicks won a game after trailing by 13 points going into the fourth quarter.
The lessons, and perhaps the confidence gained from that Bucks encounter, will stand them in good stead as they face old foes, the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers, like the Knicks are a formidable team when they play to their potential. However, they have lacked the consistency that defines Championship teams: they have recorded wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, LA Clippers, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, but have dropped games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Despite that, their regular season record is much better than that of the Knicks, as they have consistently been a plus .500 team. The only exception was the 2006/07 season, Rick Carlisle’s final season and the Jim O’Brien years (2001/08 to 2010/11) when the Pacers posted losing records.
But the Pacers were back to their near majestic best under Frank Vogel (2010/11 to 2015/16) when they consistently made the playoffs, and twice appeared in the Conference Finals. The expectations of progression onto the Finals and possibly a Championship, and the playoffs first round crash of the 2015/16 season, led to the departure of Vogel and another period of rebuilding for the Pacers.
Now, these two Eastern powerhouses face off in a game that may not decide much, but will show the direction in which the franchises are moving.
New York Knicks are currently 17-19, and an unlikely victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will not only fuel the growth of the self-belief seed that was sown in Milwaukee, it will likely be a reboot button that might cause a Knicks surge up the Atlantic Division standings. After the Pacers game, the Knicks host New Orleans, before travelling to Philadelphia and then they welcome Chicago to Madison Square Garden. A good showing in those ties will prepare them for the trip to Toronto and the visit of Atlanta. It’s a game of dominoes: stumble in Indiana, and the future could be grim.
The Pacers stopped a four-game rot with a win against Bulls in the last game of 2016. And they have continued to thrill their fans with wins on their home court, punctuating the run with a road win at Detroit. The win-spree saw them creep over the .500 mark, and Paul George has scored more than 30 points in three of those games.
George has pushed up his output and regained his All-Star status since returning from the injury that blighted his 2014/15 season, and the small forward will be key for Indiana. For the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis, their second year center will be the man to look out for, apart from perennial All Star, Carmelo Anthony.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi