By Matt Becker
(AP) — Instead of being without two starters, it looks as if the New York Knicks could be at full strength when they open a home-and-home series against the sputtering Indiana Pacers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Amar’e Stoudemire was initially going to be suspended for this game after receiving his 16th technical of the season in Thursday’s 127-109 loss in Dallas. He and the Mavericks’ Brendan Haywood were called for offsetting technicals in the second quarter.
The league has since rescinded both technical fouls after deeming they were harmless.
Losing Stoudemire to an automatic one-game suspension would have made things much tougher on the Knicks (34-30), who are in a tight race with Philadelphia for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The six-time All-Star scored 24 of his 36 points Thursday in the second half, but New York still had its three-game winning streak snapped.
“Amare was huge in the second half,” Mike D’Antoni said. “There was no quit in him. He played. But they just beat us.”
While Stoudemire, who averages a team-best 26.4 points, will certainly remain in the starting lineup, New York also could get Chauncey Billups back.
Billups, averaging 23.3 points and 6.0 assists in four games since being acquired from Denver, missed his sixth straight contest Thursday because of a bruised left thigh. Billups practiced Saturday, however, and is listed as probable on the team’s injury report.
New York is 6-4 since trading for Carmelo Anthony and Billups.
Anthony is hoping to bounce back after finishing with 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting against Dallas. The four-time All-Star had combined for 65 points and shot 60.0 percent in his previous two games.
Anthony faced the Pacers twice this season with Denver with two vastly different results. He had 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting in a November loss at Indiana, but he scored 36 and shot 14 of 27 in a win over the Pacers on Jan. 23.
The Knicks beat Indiana 98-92 at MSG on Jan. 2 in the teams’ only matchup, their fifth win in the last seven meetings. Stoudemire led New York with 26 points and his 24.9 career average versus the Pacers is his highest against any East opponent, including 30.9 the last seven times he’s faced them.
Indiana (27-38) arrives in New York following Friday’s 108-98 loss to Toronto, its sixth straight defeat. That loss combined with Charlotte’s win over Portland dropped the Pacers into a tie with the Bobcats for the East’s final playoff spot.
Indiana looked like it might cruise to the playoffs, winning seven of its first eight games under coach Frank Vogel, but has since lost 10 of 13.
Despite losing again Friday, Danny Granger finally seemed to find his shot, finishing with 25 points and making 3 of 5 from 3-point range to end an 0-for-12 drought. He averaged 13.6 points on 27.5 percent shooting in his previous five games.
After losses to Minnesota and Toronto, the Pacers’ schedule is about to get much tougher. Following Tuesday’s home game against New York, Indiana faces Boston, Chicago and Memphis.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” said Granger, who had 25 points and a career-best 17 rebounds against the Knicks in January. “We really let ourselves down, we really dropped the ball. We had a few teams that we should have beaten and we didn’t. Now we’ve got playoff teams. It’s probably one of the hardest stretches we’ll play this year. We’ve got to buckle down or we’re going to miss this playoff spot.”
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