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Pacers at Heat headline Friday night games with playoff implications


Friday night’s Pacers/Heat showdown is not going to tell is much about how a likely Eastern Conference Finals between these teams plays out — there is no Dwyane Wade for the Heat, for one. Also, both teams are going to run things a little vanilla, not overplay any sets or match ups they like and tip their hands for future playoff strategy (think NFL preseason offense).

But it does matter. A lot.

The Pacers have struggled on the road at points this season (20-19), which is why their focus all season has been getting the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the East. They want Game 7 against the Heat in their building — to get that they need to beat the Heat on the road Friday night.

Miami sits half a game back of the Pacers (one fewer wins) but with a softer schedule the rest of the way — if Miami wins they control their own destiny. Miami closes out with the Hawks, Wizards and Sixers — all very winnable games. Beat the Pacers and the top seed is yours for the taking.

For the Pacers, win and you are 1.5 games up on Miami and Indiana owns the tiebreaker — win this and the Pacers’ magic number for the top seed is one.

Add to that these teams have a nice rival growing and we should see an intense, physical game. It should feel like a playoff game. LeBron James will attack the rim and Roy Hibbert will be there to greet him. Lance Stephenson will make amazing plays or foolish plays, or most likely a little of both. Chris Bosh will float around on the perimeter but make plays. It will get chippy.

It’s going to be fun. Just don’t think the playoff match ups between these two will look like this.

Here are a few other games of playoff import on Friday night:

• Washington at Orlando/Charlotte at Boston: Right now Washington and Charlotte are deadlocked for the 6/7 seed. Nobody wants the 7 seed. With the six seed you likely face Toronto or Chicago in the first round — two good but flawed teams where the Wizards or Bobcats stand a chance to extend the series and maybe, with a little luck, get a win. Land in the 7 slot and you become chum in the first round for Miami or Indiana. Expect both Washington and Charlotte to play with some desperation.

• Philadelphia at Memphis/Phoenix at San Antonio. As of right now Memphis is the 9 seed in the West, one game back of the Suns. Memphis is going to beat Philadelphia tonight because, well, Philadelphia. Have you seen them? That puts pressure on the Suns to come up with a win against the team with the best record in the NBA — a Spurs team resting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on the second night of a back-to-back, but still a Spurs team that plugs in its reserves and keeps on moving forward like the Terminator 3000s that they are. (They will not stop. Ever.) The Suns really need a win because they have the Mavericks — the other team playing musical chairs for the final playoff slots in the West — on Saturday night. Oh, just a reminder that the Grizzlies have the tie breaker over the Suns. So yes, the Suns need wins.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.