Continued dominance?: The Knicks won the first two meetings between these two teams by 15 and 14 points, respectively, in a St. Paddy's weekend back-to-back. It was complete dominance for New York in the first three quarters of the first game, and the last three quarters of the second, allowing Indy only 80 points per 100 possessions. It's hard to do that more than once to an NBA playoff team. Can the Knicks bring the defense the way they did two weeks ago?
When asked about the Knick defense, Pacers coach Frank Vogel responded, "It's a huge reason why they're 9-2 under Coach Woodson -- their ball pressure and denials and how hard they're playing on the defensive end, disrupting." Indiana has reviewed all of their pressure release packages, and put in a few "wrinkles" in hopes of exploiting New York's aggressive defense. However, Vogel focused on execution. "The main thing, though, is -- no matter what we're doing -- we've gotta be ball tough. And when we're off the ball, we can't be lazy cutters. We've got to present leads and make sure that we're getting open, and not let their denials disrupt our offense."
B-Diddy replaces Lin-Sanity: In the first two games, Jeremy Lin averaged 16 points, over six assists, and almost six boards, generally driving the Pacers defense to distraction. The best way to attack the Pacers (9th in the NBA in efficiency) is with the high pick-and-roll. Darren Collison struggles due size and strength issues, and both Pacers bigs -- David West and Roy Hibbert -- are slow-footed and can be exploited while trying to recover to their man or the paint.
While this was tailor-made for exploitation by JLin, it remains to be seen if the 2012 version of Baron Davis can be as successful. Davis played only seven minutes in game one of the season series before leaving with a hamstring injury.
"Baron Davis is pretty good, too," said Vogel. "It doesn't change a lot of what we want to accomplish. We've fine tuned what we should have been doing in the last game, and hopefully, we'll be better at that. We've redefined some of the roles of the perimeter players, as well as the two guys involved in the pick-and-roll. We spent a lot of work on it in the shootaround today, and hopefully we'll be better tonight."
The Knicks posted a combined offensive efficiency of almost 117 in the first two games against the Pacers, and mySynergySports (Link: https://secure.mysynergysports.com/) shows they scored 39 points on 42 plays (0.93 PPP) while shooting 47% from the floor out of PnR action. It's the "tip of spear" against the Pacers, and if Davis doesn't wield it effectively, it could limit New York's effectiveness on offense.
New Kid In Town: While Leandro Barbosa was technically a member of the Pacers when these two teams first met, he did not play in either game. Since joining the Pacers lineup, Indy has scored almost 110 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Woodson is well aware of this addition, saying "Barbosa ... I think he brings a whole different dimension to their ball club in terms of getting up and down the floor and putting a lot of stress on defenses. So, we're gonna have to deal with him tonight. "
Playoff Race: Entering tonight's game, the Knicks stand 8th in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of ninth place Milwaukee, and two-and-a-half games behind seventh place Philly. Using a modified Strength of Schedule formula that takes into account home vs. road games, the Knicks have the 15th toughest schedule. The Sixers -- the team they're chasing -- have a comparable schedule at 16th. However, the Bucks have the second easiest schedule, with 9 of their 14 games at home.
For Knicks fans with bigger aspirations, New York only trails the Boston Celtics for the Atlantic Division lead, and the C's have the sixth toughest schedule down the home stretch.
Injury updates: Lin (knee), Amare Stoudemire (back), and Jared Jeffries (knee) are all out for tonight's game. Amare traveled with the team, but had no comment on his injury. Regarding Amare, Woodson said, "I keep saying day-to-day, and hope that he might come back, but after taking the shot, they're still saying two to four weeks. All I can do is wait."