Not even Patrick Ewing, the self-styled Nostradamus of pivotmen,
would have dared to predict it. Ewing's New York Knicks are on a
postseason rampage, having finished a second-round sweep of the
Atlanta Hawks on Monday to become the first eighth-seeded team
to reach a conference final. But can the Go-Go Knicks keep the
magic alive against the slo-mo Indiana Pacers? Logic says no
way. Second-seeded Indiana blew out New York in two of three
regular-season meetings, absorbing only a one-point loss at
Madison Square Garden when Ewing had a flashback to the late
1980s and scored a season-high 37 points.
Now Ewing is hobbled by a sore left Achilles, which has rendered
him as immobile as a scarecrow in a Hoosier cornfield. Through
Monday he was averaging only 13.1 points in these playoffs, far
off his 22.2 career mark in the postseason, and his rebounding
numbers had dropped as well (to 9.0 from 10.6). The Pacers'
Dunkin' Dutchman, Rik Smits, could wear wooden shoes and still
go for 20 against Ewing's backup, Chris Dudley.
How in the world are the Knicks going to stop point guard Mark
Jackson? In Indiana's second-round elimination of New York last
year, the 6'3" Jackson posted up smaller guards Charlie Ward and
Chris Childs at will. Slowly backing them into the low post like
a beer truck making a Garden delivery, Jackson would then either
score or dish the ball to one of his cutting teammates for an
easy deuce. Throw in Reggie Miller's status as a proven Knicks
killer and the two big bodies, 6'7" Jalen Rose and 6'10" Derrick
McKey, that Indiana has to throw at Latrell Sprewell and Marcus
Camby, respectively, and it's easy to see why the Pacers are
heavy favorites. They're just too deep, too experienced and too
Still, there's something about this New York team--and this
wacky lockout-shortened season--that should give Indy pause. The
Knicks are peaking at the right time. Sprewell is playing like
an All-Star, and he has helped Allan Houston raise his game.
Also, New York knows the Pacers well, having met them in the
postseason four times in six seasons. The only team the Knicks
know better is the Heat, and we all know what happened to Miami
when it met up with New York two weeks ago.
Former general manager Ernie Grunfeld built the Knicks partly
with Indiana in mind. The 6'6" Sprewell is now available to play
Jackson in the post, much the way the Bulls used Scottie Pippen
to shut down Jackson in last year's playoffs. Camby has the size
and quickness to keep Pacers forward Antonio Davis from
dominating the boards. In short, this isn't the same old New
York team, the one that Ewing has repeatedly (and vainly)
predicted would win a title. Since the ax fell on Grunfeld, the
Knicks have played like a team on a mission. For their coach.
For themselves. For destiny.
New York in six. Just watch. Even Ewing will be surprised.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN FREE TO BE SPREE After averaging 22.5 points in the sweep of Atlanta, Sprewell has the Knicks poised to run, gun--and stun.