Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough guards New York's Amare Stoudemire during an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis.

Preview: Knicks, Pacers, Amar’e Stoudemire return after lengthy layoffs

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The Knicks and Pacers will finally return to the court tonight after last playing Tuesday.

The Pacers are 4-1, including a 125-91 win over the Knicks in February, after at least three days rest. The Knicks are 3-3 and have been outscored by seven points in such games.

Meaningful? Maybe not. That’s a fairly small sample. But it’s worth paying attention to how the Knicks’ older players handle the long layoff and how both coaches gameplan after so much time to adjust.

Amar’e Stoudemire will return after an even longer hiatus, and that could be much more meaningful.

Stoudemire, who last played March 7, averaged 14.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game this season. He’s no longer the same player who received Most Value Player votes just two years ago, but Stoudemire is still 6-foot-10, and that could pay dividends against a big and physical Pacers team.

So far in this series, the Knicks have been more successful when using taller lineups. An average height of 6-foot-5.5 splits the lineups New York has used about evenly (11 shorter and 12 taller), but results are nowhere close to even:

  • Lineups with an average height taller than 6-foot-5.5: +21 in 35 minutes
  • Lineups with an average height shorter than 6-foot-5.5: –2 in in 60 minutes

Stoudemire will at least allow the Knicks to play taller lineups more often. But big lineups haven’t exactly negated Indiana’s advantages.

The Pacers have dominated the glass in the series. The Knicks’ offensive-rebounding percentage (23.8) would have ranked 26th in the regular season, and their defensive-rebounding percentage (72.7) would have ranked 25th. No team rebounded so poorly on both ends during the regular season.

Stoudemire is not a lock to save the Knicks on the boards. In addition to working his way back into game shape, he posted career lows in defensive- and total-rebound percentages.

But every bit helps, especially when J.R. Smith might not play.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.