Dennis Smith Jr., Domantas Sabonis
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Knicks embark on the final third of the season with high hopes. The Indiana Pacers represent their first test.

Danny Small

TARRYTOWN, NY—What do the New York Knicks have left to play for now that the playoffs seem to be completely out of reach? Well, the young players on the roster are fighting to prove that they belong in the NBA. Meanwhile, free agency could be a possibility in 2020 for most of the veterans on the team

And of course, Mike Miller still has that interim tag in front of head coach. He’s trying to prove he deserves a shot to be a full-time NBA head coach, whether that’s in New York or elsewhere.

“We’ve got a 27-game season which means basically 56 days,” Miller told reporters as the Knicks were wrapping up their second straight day of practice in Tarrytown. “We kind of broke it down for them that way. Where do we want to be at the end of that? How do we want to feel about it?”

Twenty-seven games give the orange and blue an opportunity to change the narrative on this season. The Knicks, under Miller, have already done that to a certain extent, but they are still a cellar-dweller in the league standings.

Winning a few games will certainly help Miller’s cause, but tangible improvements from the young core of this roster will be a better indicator of future success. Guys like Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., and Frank Ntilikina will all need to show something in this 27-game season to give some hope for the future.

Smith has had a disastrous season so far. A family tragedy and a few injuries have limited him to just 30 games. Even when he’s healthy, the third-year guard’s inconsistent play is making it hard for Miller to give him consistent minutes. Despite his nightmare season, Smith is still positive.

“Obviously, I want to win games and just continue to improve,” Smith told reporters of his goals for the rest of the season. “Become a better version of myself and continue to be a great teammate.”

He knows it won’t be easy because of the grueling schedule. As Miller noted, the Knicks have 27 games in 56 games and Smith later added that the Knicks have five back-to-backs during that stretch. But he’s not worried about the grind.

“I’m ready for it and I believe our team is ready for it,” Smith said. “All the guys got busy during the break, got some work in, and got to enjoy their families as well. I think we’re coming back with great energy and we want to start on the right foot tomorrow.”

By tomorrow, Smith means the Knicks’ Friday night matchup with the playoff-bound Indiana Pacers. Friday will serve as the rubber match between these teams, with the road team winning each of the first two games. Although the Knicks won their most recent meeting, they won’t be taking the Pacers lightly.

“They’re a great team. We beat them last time so they owe us one. Coming into the Garden, everybody is energized to play here,” Smith said. “We’ve gotta come out with it. I was just working out with T.J. [Warren] actually and we were talking about this game coming up.”

It’s impossible to know what to expect on Friday. The first game back from the All-Star break is always a little funky. Teams can either come back flat and rusty or look re-energized and well-rested.

The Knicks are going to be facing Indiana at full-strength for the first time all year. According to Mark Montieth of NBA.com, the minutes restriction on Victor Oladipo will be lifted for the first time on Friday. The All-NBA guard suffered a torn quad in January of last year and has only played in seven games during the 2019-20 season.

New York will have its hands full with Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon in the backcourt. Not to mention, first-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis has feasted on the orange and blue throughout his career. He averages 14.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game against the Knicks.

Both teams should be completely healthy for Friday’s rubber match with a few potential exceptions. Indiana’s T.J. Warren (sore lower back) and Edmond Sumner (sore left hip) are questionable. For the Knicks, Elfrid Payton (sore right ankle) and Wayne Ellington (strained right ankle) are also questionable.

News & Notes

  • On Wednesday, the 905 Raptors edged out the Westchester Knicks, 126-124. Kenny Wooten wowed with four blocks to go along with 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Ignas Brazdeikis struggled to find his range from the outside, finishing with just 12 points on 14 shots. Former Knick Henry Ellenson scorched Westchester for 29 points on 12 shots.
  • Knox and Smith were both happy for Kyrie Irving, who was recently elected as a vice president in the National Basketball Players Association. “I think he’s a great guy and he’s going to be able to get in there and make some changes for us and help us as basketball players as much as possible,” Knox said.

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