PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks

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SEASON RECORDS

Indiana: 49-32, three seed in the East

New York: 54-28, two seed in the East.

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Indiana: Beat the Atlanta Hawks 4-2

New York: Beat the Boston Celtics 4-2

SEASON SERIES

The teams split the season series, each winning two games apiece.

KEY INJURIES

Amar’e Stoudemire has been out for the Knicks with a knee injury since the beginning of March, but the hope is that he’ll be able to return at some point during this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Indiana: Offense 100.1 (tied for 10th in the postseason), Defense 96.4 (4th in the postseason)

New York: Offense 96.9 (12th in the postseason), Defense 90.8 (2nd in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Knicks in isolation: New York’s offense was ranked third in the league during the regular season in points scored per 100 possessions, just below the teams that finished with the two best records in the league, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Part of their struggles in the playoffs have been due to facing a Celtics team that will never stop working defensively, but a large portion of the pain has been self-inflicted.

Th Knicks offense was at its regular season best when the ball was moving until it found a shooter who had an open look. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are both capable of making difficult, highly-contested long jump shots, but not with any masure of consistency, so why put them in that position more often than is necessary?

ESPN’s TrueHoop has the numbers, which say that New York in the regular season saw 15.5 percent of its offensive plays end in isolation sets. In the postseason, that number has jumped to 27.3 percent, while the field goal percentage in those situations has dipped by almost seven points.

Live by the three, die by the three: The Knicks led the league in three-pointers made per game during the regular season, but were almost three per game blow that average in their first round playoff series with the Celtics. The Pacers, meanwhile, were just middle of the pack in that department in the regular season, but are down in the playoffs, as well.

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel rightly believes that slowing the Knicks long-range attack will be one of the biggest keys for his team in this series.

”They’re the best 3-point shooting team in history. They made more 3s this year than any other team in NBA history. So we understand what they’re capable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, via Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press. ”We led the league in guarding the 3 this year. We have a great deal of confidence that we can guard them if we execute our defense the way we’re supposed to.”

Indiana’s offense: We know that the Pacers can give the Knicks the kind of fits thy had in stretches while trying to manufacture offense against the Celtics. What’s less clear is Indiana’s ability to score consistently throughout the series, and get buckets in critical situations down the stretch of tight games.

The Pacers threw up just 69 points in one of their losses to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, and managed just 81 points in the series-clinching Game 6 victory. They might be able to get away with a low scoring output once against New York, but to win four times and advance, they’ll need to score consistently while playing their brand of hard-nosed defense at a high level throughout the series.

OUTLOOK

This isn’t a great matchup for the Knicks, considering that the level of defense the Pacers bring will be similar to that which they struggled with in the first round against the Celtics. The difference is that the Pacers are a younger and more athletic team that shouldn’t have nearly as much trouble as Boston did trying to score for long stretches, but in the end, I think home court advantage along with the presence of Carmelo Anthony will be too much for Indiana to overcome.

PREDICTION

Knicks in seven.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty: