By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
After exorcising some demons with their first round victory over the Boston Celtics, their first playoff series in 13 years, the Knicks will be taking on the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. This will be a tough, grind it out series just like the first one against Boston as the Pacers are not afraid to slow the game down and ugly it up by throwing it inside and letting their big men do their thing. Both teams finished off their first round series in six games but took different paths getting there. Here is a rundown of the matchups in the series and which team holds the edge.
Point Guard: Pablo Prigioni vs. George Hill: The Knicks offense runs so much smoother with Prigioni in the starting lineup and this was evident with the struggles they had in Game 1 with him sidelined with an ankle injury. He is finally starting to gain confidence on the offensive end and getting more aggressive, taking the shots opposing defense are giving him and making them pay by knocking the shots down. He is a good defender as well and should be able to present some problems for the explosive and younger Hill. Hill is no pushover on the defensive end either, averaging 1.5 steals per game in the first series while Prigioni averaged 2.2 of his own. This is one of the closer positional matchups in the series and will be worth keeping an eye on as they may not even matchup with each other during the series but is listed as the starting Point Guards. This is pretty much a toss-up, but a slight edge will go to Hill.
Shooting Guard: Raymond Felton vs. Lance Stephenson: Throughout the series against Boston, Felton was arguably the best player on the court for the Knicks. His play and decision making in the pick-and-roll left the Celtics baffled as they had no idea how to slow down Felton, who was in attack mode throughout the series and was also knocking down his jump shots. Felton picked up the offensive slack, averaging 17.2 points per game to go along with 4.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.67 steals. Stephenson had a solid series of his own for the Pacers, averaging 7.8 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.17 steals per game. This is another intriguing matchup as Stephenson has really come on in his 3rd season replacing the injured Danny Granger and will be looking to play well in front of a lot of friends and family as he grew up and went to high school in Brooklyn. Even with that, the Knicks have the edge here. Felton has been playing outstanding and there is no reason to believe he will not continue that play against Stephenson or Hill as neither are considered the type of defender that Avery Bradley was and Felton torched him throughout the series.
Small Forward: Iman Shumpert vs. Paul George: This is the most lopsided matchup in favor of the Pacers and that is not a knock on Shumpert, George is just that good. Shumpert had his hands full and did well against bigger opponents in Paul Pierce and Jeff Green in the first round but George is a whole different kind of player than those two. George is a terrific two-way player and will present a difficult matchup for Shumpert because of the size different as Shumpert stands at 6’5” and George is a legitimate 6’10”. George is almost like a Lebron James light, as he scores, rebounds, passes and plays defense as the leader of the Pacers since Granger did not play much this season. Shumpert has been getting better and better as the season has progressed after returning from an ACL injury suffered in the playoffs last season and was locked in during the first round series against the Celtics on both ends of the court. Shumpert will give George everything he has and should be a fun matchup to watch throughout the series. George right now is the better player and presents the biggest advantage the Pacers have in the series, even though it is closer than a lot of people would think.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. David West: West is a good player in his own right, giving the Pacers a veteran presence and inside scoring threat but he has nothing on Anthony. Anthony once again will be the best player in the series, giving the Knicks the edge as they will have the best player on the court whenever Anthony is in the game. West can cause some problems for the Knicks on the offensive end as Anthony will have his hands full trying to stop him in the low post, but Anthony has the size to at least compete with West in the post. On the contrary when West is guarding Anthony the Knicks will have quite an advantage. West does not have the lateral quickness or defensive prowess of Brandon Bass or Kevin Garnett, the two players who spent the most time on Anthony in the first round, and does not present much of a problem for Anthony. Anthony should be able to keep his impressive scoring numbers up in the playoffs as the Knicks will look to Anthony early and often to set the tone of the game. Anthony should have his way with West away from the basket as West is much more comfortable playing closer to the basket. This is potentially the biggest advantage the Knicks will hold in the series. One thing to keep an eye on that could wing this positional matchup closer to the Pacers favor is the health of Anthony, who had his shoulder popping in and out during Game 6 against the Celtics.
Center: Tyson Chandler vs. Roy Hibbert: Another interesting matchup to keep an eye on as the last two Eastern Conference All-Star reserve centers will be facing off. Hibbert had a rough regular season, shooting only 44.8 percent from the field en route to 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.61 blocks per game; underwhelming numbers for a player who just received a monster contract extension. Chandler is rounding back into shape after missing 16 of the last 20 regular season games with a neck injury and coming on strong towards the end of the Celtics series, rebounding well and imposing his will on the defensive end. Chandler will never be an offensive force but cleans up well on the offensive boards. This is another position that the Knicks hold the advantage in because you know what you will get with Chandler; Hibbert not so much. He had a strong series against the Hawks, but did not go against anyone with the defensive abilities of Chandler, Kenyon Martin or even Marcus Camby. Chandler also brings the intensity and leadership Hibbert just does not have as Chandler is a former champion and knows how to win.
Bench: J.R. Smith once again wins this category alone for the Knicks, as the Pacers do not have a player that can come in and dominate a game like Smith can on the offensive side of the ball. The Pacers made some questionable decisions this past offseason, letting a lot of pieces go from what people thought were a strong bench, using Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Ian Mahinmi as their main bench guys. None of those players brings the offensive threat of Smith or the defensive presence of someone like Martin that the Knicks have. The Knicks also have veteran leadership in Jason Kidd and Camby in addition to Martin off the bench. The Knicks also have one of the deadliest shooters and x-factors in Steve Novak off the bench who can light it up from downtown. The Knicks have a big edge in the bench game once again right now and later in the series will see a big boost on the bench from Amar’e Stoudemire, who is expected to play in the series by Game 3. If Stoudemire does in fact suit up and play like he was prior to going down with the injury this will be the most lopsided matchup in the series as the Pacers do not have the firepower or veteran presence off the bench that the Knicks have even without Stoudemire suiting up.
This series has the potential to be another slugfest for the Knicks as the Pacers are known to ugly up games and win with defense. In the end, the Knicks hold home court advantage, the Pacers struggle on the road and to score and the Knicks have the go-to scorers in Anthony, Smith and potentially Stoudemire to get a bucket when they need it, something the Pacers do not have. This could actually be an easier series for the Knicks than the one against the Celtics as there is no veteran presence like in Boston with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to compete with this time around. The Knicks will take this series in five games, as the firepower and experience they have is something the Pacers will not be able to overcome, setting up a likely showdown with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.