Knicks, Pacers gaining steam in opposite directions

Sports

The New York Knicks have a better record through 13 games this season than last season, when they were one of the biggest pleasant surprises in the NBA.

The Indiana Pacers have a worse record through 14 games this season than last, when they were one of the biggest disappointments in the league.

But the now-and-then records don’t tell the tale for either team heading into Monday night, when the Knicks will look to reverse a recent slide by hosting the Pacers.

The Knicks have been off since Friday, when they squandered a 16-point lead and fell to the host Charlotte Hornets 104-96. The Pacers earned their second straight win Saturday by racing to a 20-point lead before edging the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 118-113.

The Knicks, who made the playoffs for the first time in seven years last spring after starting 5-8, appeared ready to build on that late success when they opened this season with five wins in their first six games. But New York has lost five of its last seven, a stretch in which one of its wins required a 21-point comeback against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Chemistry within the starting five has been an issue as the Knicks, who signed Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to go along with holdovers Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

Coach Tom Thibodeau elicited a spark by playing reserves for the final 14-plus minutes of a 112-100 loss to the Bucks last Wednesday in which New York overcame a 24-point deficit to briefly tie Milwaukee more than midway through the fourth quarter.

But there was no magic formula to be found Friday, when the Knicks were outscored 86-62 over the final three quarters. The loss dropped New York to 7-6, just 1 1/2 games ahead of the 12th-place Pacers in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s going to take us five — we’ve got to figure it out,” Walker said Friday night. “We just have to, or else it won’t be good for us. Won’t be good for us. So it needs to get better. It just needs to get better.”

Things have gotten better faster than anticipated for the Pacers, who started 8-6 last season but later traded franchise player Victor Oladipo before finishing 34-38. They lost the do-or-die play-in game to Washington in what turned out to be the lone season at the helm for head coach Nate Bjorkgren.

With star forward T.J. Warren out indefinitely because of a left-foot injury suffered last December, the Pacers appeared ready to embark upon a rebuilding plan when they hired Rick Carlisle for a second stint as head coach. But Indiana has gone 5-2 after a 1-6 start, with the two recent losses by a combined seven points in road games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.

“We’ve just got to keep building,” Carlisle said Saturday night. “We’re building trust together. We’re building a level of respect for one another. Winning games in the NBA this year is as difficult as I’ve ever seen it, from top to bottom.”

–Field Level Media

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