The Knicks travel to Indiana for their third straight road game, this time it’s a rematch with the Pacers, who have launched themselves early in the season as one of the strongest teams.
The New York Knicks (2-3) continue their three-game road trip, traveling from Tampa to Indianapolis to face the Indiana Pacers (4-1). This is the second matchup between the two teams after the Knicks opened the 2020–21 season with a 121-107 loss to the Pacers on November 23rd. After losing to the Raptors on Thursday, the Knicks are looking to avoid a losing record for their road trip.
For one half, the Knicks looked great against the Raptors—defending well and keeping the game relatively slow to maintain a lead. Then, the Raptors began to hit their threes while the Knicks failed to hit anything from outside. R.J. Barrett’s shooting woes continued, the injuries were apparent, and the Raptors remembered that they were the better team and made offensive possessions a chore for New York in the second half.
And things don’t get any easier, now that the Knicks get a Pacers team that already defeated them before.
The sample remains small, but the Pacers are currently in the top 10 of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Victor Oladipo has remerged to be a solid contributor, while Domantas Sabonis has emerged as the team’s best player, thanks to his overall offensive play. Malcolm Brogdon slots right behind those two, providing shooting and defense. They still don’t shoot a ton of threes—23rd in attempts per game—but they’ve taken a step forward from ranking last the previous season.
In their last matchup, the Pacers did a good job of attack with their big men. The combination of Sabonis and Myles Turner gave New York fits, thanks to their ability to not just punish the likes of Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel in the paint but also pull them out and shoot over them. That duo could have even more success against New York’s roster now that Obi Toppin is on the sideline with a calf injury.
That success from the bigs could once again trickle down to Indiana’s guards, as Brogdan and Oladipo could replicate the 43 points they had before. New York’s defense will be tested as the Pacers employ a smart group of guys who can thrive off of Sabonis and Brogdon’s passing abilities. Could the Knicks counter that with another strong defensive performance?
More Austin Rivers minutes
After he finished with seven points and five assists in 21 minutes against Toronto, I’m curious to see how Tom Thibodeau does with Austin Rivers in his rotation. He can shoot, he can slash, and with several injuries to the backcourt, Rivers can slide in and offer valuable minutes as an off-guard. With Alec Burks questionable and Frank Ntilikina out, I could see Rivers assuming the role of the lead guard in the second unit.
Tough finish by Rivers pic.twitter.com/o0JRVjKoZG
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 1, 2021
R.J. Barrett’s shooting woes
In his last four games, Barrett has gone 0-for-21 from the three-point range. The Toronto game was the most notable because most of his looks were wide-open shots. Yes, Barrett does the little things (eight rebounds, three assists versus the Raps), but he has to start making those shots. Honestly, Barrett needs to continue to shoot those shots, hoping they go in. In order for the rest of Barrett’s game to level up, he’ll have to be a consistent threat from the outside.
Kevin Knox and keeping the motor hot
Kevin Knox was excited to play in front of family in Tampa, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds. The issue with Knox under previous regimes was that his motor runs hot and cold. Since the arrival of Thibodeau, Knox is much more active and the Knicks will hope he keeps that up. With the injury to Toppin, Knox is capable of playing more small-ball four and that has opened up his game alongside New York’s defensive-minded centers.
Even with the brief two-game winning streak, the Knicks revealed some of their flaws. The point guard position just isn’t dynamic, which will lead to questions when everyone is healthy. The shooting woes, specifically surrounding R.J. Barrett, will have to be addressed and the non–Julius Randle minutes are a question mark as well.
The games are coming in quick and last Thursday’s game was a reminder that as much as we want to turn the corner, the Knicks should be continuing to tinker and see what works and what doesn’t. As guys return from injuries and the options expand, I’m hoping Thibodeau agrees with that assessment.
For New York, these games are going to important for figuring out where they stand in the large picture of the Eastern Conference. Indiana is good, good enough to finish in the top six of the East, but probably not truly contend. With a balanced rotation of players, a head coach with a positive offensive efficiency, and several players who can make an impact in the playoffs, this is a game to see where the Knicks stand.
The Pacers should be able to close this one out, much as they did a week ago, but in the same vein, the Knicks should be able to compete and make a half, if not the first three quarters of the game interesting, thanks to an improved desire and effort on the defensive end.