With a Knicks win against the Pacers on Sunday afternoon, New York will clinch the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and secure home-court advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. This could be the last game in which the team's core players get their regular playing time.
Here are three main things to watch for in this one, starting at 3:30 p.m. ET:
1. The dynamic duo. In their win over the Cavaliers on Friday night, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith became the first Knicks teammates to score at least 30 points each in the same game three times in a season since Patrick Ewing and Gerald Wilkins did it four times during the 1986–87 season. Melo and Smith had 31 points each. From the end of the third quarter to the final buzzer, Smith was 12-for-12 from the field. They also combined for 19 rebounds and four steals. Melo was, once again, a beast on the glass, finishing with seven offensive boards.
Both players will be tested against the full-strength Pacers, who are unique for their size, length and quickness defensively inside and out. At times, their playmaking could stutter without the screening presence of Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby, who are all questionable for Sunday's game due to injuries. The key for the Knicks is to play at a faster pace to get easier shots in transition and the initial ticks of the shot clock. The Pacers are better when they're given time to set up in their half-court defensive sets.
2. Pick-and-roll defense. Thirty-seven, 33, 35 and 31. That's how many points the past four opposing point guards -- Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Nate Robinson and Kyrie Irving -- put up against the Knicks. While the Pacers don't have an All-Star floor general, George Hill has the potential to be one on any given night. In fact, in the past two games, he's averaging 22 points, seven assists and 2.5 steals.
The Knicks are sorely missing Chandler and Martin's ability to show on pick-and-rolls and even stay in front of opposing point guards, because sometimes Pablo Prigioni is not as good defensively trying to get through screens. He's better at making reads off the ball. Iman Shumpert is continuing to progress, and he will be counted on more down the road and in the playoffs to guard the 1 position. For now, though, the key is getting their bigs back healthy for more of an intimidation factor. With Chandler and/or Martin on the court, opposing point guards' court vision shrinks.
3. What's next for Solomon Jones? Speaking of bigs, Jones made his season debut on Friday night and he came out with a lot more energy than efficiency. Granted, it was his first NBA game all season and he was just excited to be on the court. But now with an extra day of schooling from Mike Woodson, will he look a bit more polished on Sunday? Most important, he needs to set some harder screens. Against the Cavaliers, he hardly put a body on guys, rolled too quickly to the basket and didn't look up fast enough for the pass.
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