Dennis Smith Jr. gets his first crack at the Victor Oladipo–less Indiana Pacers as the Knicks journey on their trip away from the Garden.
Since a late-February stretch where the New York Knicks rattled off three wins in a four-game stretch, the Knickerbockers have returned to form.
The Knicks (13-54) are carrying a six-game losing streak with them into Tuesday night’s game as they take on the Indiana Pacers (42-25) for the final time this season. They will be heading over to Indianapolis, where the odds will be against them. So far this season, New York has lost all three of its previous meetings with the Pacers.
Indiana enters Tuesday night on a bit of a recent slump. After taking a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, the Pacers have now lost five of their last seven games. It was a crucial loss for Indiana, who were clinging to the third spot. Now they’re tied with Philadelphia, with the Boston Celtics in hot pursuit.
The Pacers will have an opportunity to sweep the regular season series with the Knicks, although New York will try to avoid that when the game tips off on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. ET.
No Oladipo, Some Problems
Part of the Pacers’ recent struggles stem from the absence of Victor Oladipo. Since he went down in a January 23rd game with a knee injury against the Toronto Raptors—a win the Pacers were able to pull off, despite an early exit for Oladipo—Indiana has gone 10-10 since. It appeared that the Pacers were able to regroup and find a way to win without their star player, as they won eight of their first nine games—including six-straight—to begin the month of February. Since then, the Pacers have started slumping.
Oladipo played well against the Knicks. Through three meetings this season, he’s averaged 23 points per game, 6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.7 steals. He’s shot a collective 25-of-44 on the floor (56.8 percent) and an 11-for-22 clip (50 percent) from long range. It’s safe to say he’s been great on both ends of the court.
However, while Oladipo has deserved all the attention and accolades for his play, Domantas Sabonis has been the actual Knicks killer. The big man has been an efficient worker in the post and a great rebounder. He’s averaged 21.7 points and 12 rebounds through three prior meetings with the Knicks, all while shooting an ultra-efficient 74.8 percent on the floor. New York hasn’t had an answer for him, especially since he shot a perfect 12-for-12 in the first-ever meeting on Halloween.
Sabonis has been dealing with some injuries of his own. Sunday, against Philadelphia, was his first game since missing the last few weeks. It wasn’t a great return, scoring just nine points on 1-of-7 shooting through 20 minutes of action. He did have six boards and six assists, however.
He wasn’t as hot against the Knicks (averaging just 12.3 points over the three meetings), but Bojan Bogdanovic has elevated his play since the Oladipo injury. Bogdanovic has played his best stretch of basketball, averaging a touch over 23 points per game through February and March.
He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Head coach David Fizdale tinkered around with the starting five a lot, especially early in the season, but this will be another unique starting lineup against the Pacers.
Back on Halloween, he rolled out a lineup of Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh, and Mitchell Robinson. A couple of months later, on December 16th, he trotted out Emmanuel Mudiay, Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Vonleh, and Enes Kanter. In the most recent meeting on January 11th, the Knicks went with Mudiay, Hardaway Jr., Knox, Vonleh, and Luke Kornet to begin.
A handful of those players aren’t on the team anymore, and there have been a number of new additions since. It’ll be interesting to see DeAndre Jordan up against that frontcourt, racking up boards and possibly slowing down the likes of Sabonis and Thaddeus Young.
Mitchell Robinson is a completely different player than he was earlier in the year, and he’s played a bigger role in the rotation since returning from an ankle injury that caused him to miss the last two meetings against the Pacers.
He’s coming off of an impressive five-block performance and he’s got a solid streak going which puts him up with some great company.
With five blocks tonight, Mitchell Robinson becomes one of eight rookies in @NBAHistory to record at least 2 blocks in 15 straight games. The other seven:
Tree Rollins pic.twitter.com/josRMSnne1
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 11, 2019
Point Guard Watch
This game will also be Dennis Smith Jr.’s first look at the Pacers, as he missed the Mavericks’ game against Indiana when he was back in Dallas. He’ll have to make more of an effort than he showed on Sunday, when he turned the ball over five times. However, the team struggled with taking care of the ball overall, coughing it up 17 times.
The other Knicks point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, has also been atrocious with the ball as of late. Like Smith, he also had five turnovers against the Timberwolves, but his assist-to-turnover ratio hasn’t been the greatest this week.
“Best passer on the team” https://t.co/WqYHPjOzMt
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 11, 2019
Will they be able to pull it together amid what has been a sloppy stretch of basketball?