The NBA regular season stretches from Halloween until the middle of April. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The Pacers and Knicks are both learning that quickly this year. New York, boosted by some incredible shooting and a rejuvenated Carmelo Anthony, sprinted out of the gates, starting 6-0 and eventually 18-5. Now, they sit at a disappointing 33-20. The talent is still there, but was the early season run simply a mirage? A sprint that left them spent? Viable questions.
On the other end of the spectrum is Indiana, who came on strong in the postseason last year before starting this season at a disappointing 10-11. Between Roy Hibbert‘s struggles, Danny Granger missing the first half of the season, and the team’s offense sputtering to a halt, the Pacers didn’t permanently dig themselves out from under .500 until just a few weeks before Christmas. Now, they’ve won 26 of their last 36 games to move to second in the East at 36-21.
With the two teams primed for a second round matchup as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, now’s as good a time as ever to ask which squad is better: Indiana or New York? We argue. You decide.
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The perception of the New York Knicks has overtaken the reality of the team. They’re extremely talented and when their shot is on, they can beat any team in the league. But they are also old, below average at defense and impressively inconsistent. All of these factors, along with the Indiana Pacers’ superior defense, post players and consistency makes it simple to argue that the Pacers are a better team than the Knicks.
In head-to-head matchups this season, the Pacers are 2-1 against the Knicks, with the last win coming on February 20 at home. In that game, the Pacers dismantled the Knicks, 125-91, with their biggest lead being 39 points in the third quarter. Indiana held Carmelo Anthony to 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting and the entire Knicks team to 33 percent shooting. The only Knick to shoot above 50 percent was Chris Copeland, who only played 10 minutes. It was an embarrassing loss for New York and a somewhat routine game for Indiana and their league-leading defense.
Indiana’s defense holds opponents to league lows in field goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (32.0) and points (89.6 per game). They’re hounding and they physically beat teams down with their unmatched size in the frontcourt of David West and Roy Hibbert. No team in the East has close to that much size and strength in their starting bigs, and the Knicks clearly don’t have it. With this size, the Pacers lead the league in rebounds at 45.9 per game. The Knicks, on the other hand, are No. 22 in the league at 41.2 rebounds per game.
Now the Pacers certainly don’t have the star power or explosive offense that the Knicks have. They don’t have an Anthony who can take over a game all by himself. Or a Steve Novak who can be a threat from anywhere on the court. Or an Amar’e Stoudemire who can punch fire extinguishers. But what they do have is a newly minted All-Star of their own, Paul George, and his emergence is a major reason why the Pacers are currently the second seed in the East. George is averaging 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and four assists per game while playing exceptional perimeter defense with his 6-8 frame and shooting 38 percent from three. He can do it all and he’s only 22.
And in addition to all of this, former All-Star Danny Granger is finally back and healthy for the Pacers. If he can find his place in the established rotation, then the Pacers should become a legitimate threat in the playoffs to not only the Knicks, but also the Miami Heat. Defense, size and consistency wins in the postseason, and the Pacers have it all.
NEW YORK KNICKS
I get it. The Pacers were on the Knicks like white on rice in their last meeting, thrashing them by 34 points and getting underneath their skin enough for the Knicks to take their anger out on the referees. Indiana is one of the league’s hottest teams right now, but come playoff time, it’s New York who should be feared more.
The 2011 Dallas Mavericks are the blueprint for teams building their rosters to beat the Miami Heat. They were able to play physical and pound the Heat on the glass because of their size, and keep them honest with their depth. The Knicks’ size and depth is far superior to the Pacers. New York goes a minimum of two deep at every position, meaning it will be easy to stay fresh down the stretch. Throw all the old men jokes you want at Kenyon Martin or and Marcus Camby (Rasheed Wallace will have season-ending surgery on his injured left foot), but you don’t want to get caught going too hard in the paint or one of these guys will make you pay. Knicks coach Mike Woodson is a proponent of hard fouls, and tells his team not to shy away from contact. Once you consider that Amar’e Stoudemire, one of the best scorers of the last 10 years, is coming off the bench, it’s simple to realize how deep the Knicks truly are. Outside of Psycho T, Indiana’s bench is pretty much nonexistent. Danny Granger won’t be coming off the bench forever.
Veteran experience is priceless in the NBA. While neither the Knicks nor Pacers should be considered a battle-tested team, the Knicks roster is filled with individuals who have been through it all. I’m not saying that once the playoffs start, they’ll be able to flip the switch and start steamrolling teams like they did at the beginning of the season, but look at what the Celtics have been able to do over the last few playoffs. The last time Boston was a top-two seed was when LeBron was still balling in Cleveland. The regular season just simply isn’t as important to the Celtics as it is to other teams. They are a veteran-led team who you know is going to bring it when the games are most important. I see a lot of the same in the Knicks.
It’s hard to argue against the Pacers right now. If it weren’t for Miami getting victories in their last 12 consecutive games, they’d probably be the talk of the league. They are a young, up-and-coming team, but young and up-and-coming doesn’t get you anywhere in the NBA. To win the championship, a team needs size, depth and veteran leadership, and the Knicks have the upper hand in all of these. The only thing left is to go out there and prove it. See you in May, Indiana.
Which team is better?
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