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.

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

Technically Turner can still be traded at the Feb. 9 deadline, but the Pacers have no intention of doing so (as this signing signals). There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).