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.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

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Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

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The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?