Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Joe vs. The Volcano hot New York Knicks went 14-2 in January and kick off February with a throwback to an old rivalry. The Indiana Pacers make their first visit to the Garden after beating New York 140-126 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Dec. 30.

It was a great game for Pacers star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who finished the game with 22 points and a franchise record 23 assists. New York got 38 points from Donte DiVincenzo and kept the game close in the first half. Not bad considering this game happened a day after RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley were traded to Toronto. Moreover, OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa hadn’t yet joined the Knicks.

Cue Thursday’s tilt being a payback game. Just a little bit. After all, most Knicks fans’ blood boils even today at the sound of the magic words, “Reggie Miller.”

Well, it’s a different team now and a potential test for the shorthanded Knicks.

Time: Thursday, Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET


Betting Line: Knicks -2.5, Over/under 236. This game and others are available to bet at most New York sports betting apps.

Injuries: Mitchell Robinson (Ankle, OUT), Julius Randle (Dislocated shoulder, OUT), Quentin Grimes, (Knee sprain, questionable), OG Anunoby (Elbow, questionable), Tyrese Haliburton (Hamstring, questionable), Benedict Mathurin (Toe, questionable), T.J. McConnell (Illness, questionable), Jalen Smith (Back, questionable)

Key Storyline: Can the shorthanded Knicks do it again? You’d never know the Knicks were down two key players in Mitchell Robinson and All-Star Julius Randle. New York has not only won the two games since Randle’s injury, but dominated them. Coach Tom Thibodeau has shifted to a smaller, faster lineup anchored by DiVincenzo and MVP contender Jalen Brunson.

This approach should help the Knicks against Indiana, who lead the NBA with 124.8 per game. However, their defense is the third-worst and Haliburton may be on a minutes restriction. The Pacers could have a harder time keeping up with the Knicks’ ironclad D.

Key Matchup: Precious Achiuwa vs. Pascal Siakam. In case you forgot, Pascal Siakam is now a Pacer. The former Raptors power forward has found himself again in Indy, averaging 21.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. He’s been efficient too, making nearly 43% of his threes and shooting over 57% on the whole.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a slugfest between Siakam and Randle. Instead, Precious Achiuwa will look to build off his strong game against Utah. But instead of being a secret interior scoring weapon, his job will be containing Siakam and putting his growing defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) to good use.

X-Factor: Jalen Brunson. It’s Brunson’s world and the rest of the NBA is just living in it. You know it, we all know it, but no one wants to accept it. The Knicks’ fearless leader has been unfazed despite Randle’s injury, continuing to score and dish effectively.

This is where the Knicks’ new small game comes in. The Pacers’ defense has more holes than the rom-com you watched on a flight home from Indianapolis. Their job tonight is to stop a man on a mission, and who isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Donte DiVincenzo (SG), OG Anunoby (SF), Precious Achiuwa (PF), Isaiah Hartenstein (C)

Pacers predicted starters: Tyrese Haliburton (PG), Buddy Hield (SG), Aaron Nesmith (SF), Pascal Siakam (PF), Myles Turner (C)

Prediction: We’ll guess and take two big gambles with this game: Anunoby returning and Haliburton still on a minutes restriction. That said, this game is the Knicks’ to lose and it’s hard to imagine the Pacers stopping Brunson. It won’t be as high-scoring as their last match, but New York should eke this out in a squeaker. Knicks defeat Pacers, 118-112

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.