New York returns from the All-Star break as 6.5 underdogs against Indiana
It’s been quite an interesting season for the Knickerbockers. The team fired former Head Coach Dave Fizdale after New York started the season with a 4-18 record. Since then, the Knicks have actually found some positive signs of growth and development under the tenure of interim coach Mike Miller. New York has posted a 13-20 record since Miller took over the job. That is not blowing anybody out of the water, but it is really good when you consider the Knicks only won 17 of their 82 games last season! At one point, they even had a four-game winning streak going. That stretch ended against the Atlanta Hawks, and New York wound up going into the All-Star break on a two-game losing streak. They will hope to right the ship tonight though as they get set to play host to the Indiana Pacers.
The season series between New York and Indiana is currently tied at one game a piece. Both match-ups between these teams have been close though. The Pacers edged out the Knicks the first time they faced off in a 104-103 win at MSG. However, the Knickerbockers were able to best the Pacers 92-85 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse when these teams last played on February 1st. The final game between these squads tonight will determine who ends up winning the season series in a classic rubber match.
My concern is that the Pacers look like clear favorites in this final matchup. As it stands right now, Indiana is the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoff race. The Pacers’ 32-23 record makes them the 13th best team in the NBA overall, but Indiana had its own struggles heading into the All-Star break. They were able to beat the Bucks in their last game, as they topped the league’s best team by a final score of 118-111. But before that surprising victory, the Pacers lost six straight games. Part of the reason Indiana struggled as of late is because they are reintegrating former all-star Victor Oladipo back into the lineup. The 2013 number two overall pick is averaging 11.1 PPG on 32.9% shooting in his last seven games. He did have a good outing against the Bucks though, finishing the game with 13 points, four assists, and three rebounds. It does appear that Oladipo is back to full health. On Wednesday, Indiana coach Nate McMillan said that Oladipo was cleared to start playing between 32 and 34 minutes per game. He had been limited to just 25 minutes per game since returning from his injury. This development will be key to the Pacers’ success tonight and later on in the playoffs.
The Knicks will have their hands full with a healthy Oladipo and, more importantly, a rising star in Domantas Sabonis. The former Gonzaga big man was not great in the All-Star game as he recorded just two points and six rebounds, but those numbers are not indicative of how good a season Sabonis is actually having. The 23 year old power forward is averaging a double-double on the season and is making 54.1% of his baskets this year. Furthermore, he has found immense success when facing the New York Knicks. Sabonis averages 22 points per game against New York while shooting the ball at a 69.2% clip! Julius Randle will do his best to match-up with Sabonis, but I just think Domantas will be too much for the Knicks to handle, especially with another star playmaker like Victor Oladipo on the court.
I expect Oladipo to have a complete turnaround from the last time he played against New York. In that game, he ended up going 2-14 from the field. Also, Indiana was held to just 25 points combined in the first and fourth quarters of that game! That was a clear fluke, and I don’t anticipate it happening again. The Pacers are a legitimate playoff team, and they will show their true potential tonight against a Knicks squad that is one of the worst teams in the league.Indiana will win and cover the 6.5 point spread.