The Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks looked to be going in different directions the last time they opposed each other.
On Tuesday night, both undermanned teams will just hope to stave off a slide toward the lottery when New York is slated to host Indiana in the final regular-season game between the Eastern Conference rivals.
Each club was off Monday following road losses Sunday. The Pacers squandered a double-digit second-half lead in a 108-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Knicks fell to the Toronto Raptors, 120-105.
The loss was the fourth straight for the Pacers, who have seven players in COVID-19 protocol after Caris LeVert and Goga Bitadze were added to the list prior to tip-off Sunday. Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Kelan Martin are also sidelined in protocol. Brogdon, LeVert and Duarte rank first, third and fifth, respectively, for the Pacers in scoring.
The Pacers put themselves in position for a stirring win Sunday by mounting a 22-9 run to take an 84-73 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. But the Cavaliers scored the final 15 points of the period and led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter.
Indiana fell to 2-7 since a three-game winning streak that ended Dec. 10. That winning streak included a 122-102 victory over the Knicks on Dec. 8.
The Pacers enter Tuesday in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, four games out of a play-in spot.
“Their run at the end of the third was the difference in the game, so that was tough,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said of the loss to the Cavaliers. “I’m proud of the way the guys competed all night, which makes this a really disappointing result, given the effort that was given.”
The Knicks haven’t been at .500 since entering the game against the Pacers at 12-12. That loss marked the start of a 5-8 stretch for New York, which won three in a row from Dec. 25-29 to move within a game of the break-even mark before falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 95-80 on New Year’s Eve.
The Knicks enter Tuesday in 11th place in the East, one game behind the Raptors and Boston Celtics, who are tied for the final two play-in spots. Their attempts to climb the standings have been complicated by a string of injuries and COVID-19 absences.
New York starting center Mitchell Robinson entered the health and safety protocol Saturday, two days after starting forward Julius Randle was sidelined. A trio of assistant coaches — Johnnie Bryant, Kenny Payne and Daisuke Yoshimoto — are also in the protocol.
Point guard Derrick Rose is also out until at least mid-February following ankle surgery while Kemba Walker, who had a resurgent run as the starting point guard in late December, has missed the last two games with a sore left knee.
On Sunday, the Knicks led just once at 5-4 and trailed by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter before ending the game on a 20-10 run.
“We have three starters down,” said the Knicks’ Evan Fournier, who scored a team-high 20 points Sunday. “The margin of error is smaller. So we have to play better, period.”
Backup Knicks center Nerlens Noel, who has missed the last six games while on the COVID-19 list, is close to a return but was ruled out Tuesday.
–Field Level Media