Scouting report

May 23, 2000|By Don Markus

Eastern Conf. finals: New York vs. Indiana

The New York Knicks and Miami Heat might have their place among the NBA's great rivalries, but the one between the Knicks and Indiana Pacers hasn't been too shabby either. This marks the third straight year and the fifth time in the past seven seasons that the Knicks and Pacers will meet in the playoffs.

Here's how they match up:

Guards

This could be where the series is decided. Everyone knows how fired up Reggie Miller gets when he plays the Knicks - who can forget the choke sign he gave New York groupie Spike Lee two years ago? - and Miller has been on a roll lately. If Allan Houston's ankle continues to give him problems, the Knicks could be in real trouble. Indiana point guards Mark Jackson and Travis Best are a formidable combination, but counterparts Charlie Ward and Chris Childs came up big against the Heat.

Edge: Indiana

Forwards

The small forward matchup between New York's Latrell Sprewell and Indiana's Jalen Rose will be interesting, since they are both emotional, streaky players. Sprewell has an advantage in experience, but Rose is bigger and could present problems if he shoots the ball well. At power forward, Dale Davis will be counted on for his rebounding and defense, while New York's Larry Johnson will be looked to for more scoring if Houston isn't at full strength. Sprewell averaged close to 22 points a game in the four regular-season meetings, which the teams split.

Edge: New York

Center

Patrick Ewing has had a remarkable rejuvenation this season and while he was outplayed overall by Miami's Alonzo Mourning, he managed to hit some of the biggest shots of his career against the Heat. Conversely, Rik Smits is a 7-foot-4 shadow of his former self. Though still capable of hitting mid-range jumpers that can bring Ewing away from the basket, Smits tends to be foul-prone and gets pushed around inside.

Edge: New York

Bench

The injury to Houston could change New York's rotation, pushing Sprewell from small forward to shooting guard and putting Marcus Camby into the starting lineup as Ewing's injury did a year ago. Camby's energy and athletic ability could be difficult for the Pacers to contain, considering that neither Austin Croshere nor the ageless Sam Perkins can play above the rim. But New York doesn't have much behind either Camby or Childs, while the Pacers have Best, Perkins, Croshere and former All-Star Chris Mullin in reserve.

Edge: Indiana

Coaches

Is Jeff Van Gundy, he of the totaled 1995 Honda Civic, going to get his due? All Van Gundy has done is beat his mentor, Pat Riley, four straight times in the playoffs. His counterpart, Larry Bird, might be a legend, but he has yet to take a team to the NBA Finals. This is his best chance, and he's done a marvelous job at bringing along his young players while not forgetting his veterans. With Bird expected to retire from coaching after this season, you'd expect him to take this challenge as he did when he was playing. If the Knicks win, Van Gundy can reward himself with a new car. How about a '96 Civic?

Edge: New York

Intangibles

It will be interesting to see how fast the Knicks can recover from their seven-game death march against Miami. It also will be interesting to see if Indiana's Conseco Field House will be a bigger homecourt advantage than it was against Milwaukee and Philadelphia, where it was the site of two blowout defeats. Given the Pacers will have the extra home game, and given the fact that Houston might not be ready to go full bore, Indiana should reach the NBA Finals for the first time in its history.

Edge: Indiana

Prediction

Pacers in seven.

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