NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Carmelo Anthony likes Eastern Conference playoff basketball, even the pounding and pain that goes along with it.
The wide-open West was fun, with more scoring and less defense, and it certainly didn’t hurt as much. But coming off his first series victory since leaving Denver — and his team’s first in 13 years — he has adapted to the way it is on the other side.
And here comes a team that represents the physicality of the East as well as anyone.
The Indiana Pacers are rough and tough, but the New York Knicks say they’re ready for it when the teams renew an old postseason rivalry Sunday to begin the second round.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. “We know we’re going to be in for a battle. We’ve got to be prepared physically to match their play, keep them off the glass, limit them to one shot and then run.”
The Knicks wrapped up their first series victory since 2000 on Friday night by holding off the Boston Celtics in Game 6. They had just one day to rest before facing the Pacers, who were also pushed to six games before finishing off Atlanta on Friday night.
Anthony is battling a sore left shoulder, an injury originally sustained when he was whacked in a victory over the Pacers on April 14. That might have contributed to his 38 percent shooting against Boston, but he’s making no excuses as he gets set to match up against another bigger forward in David West.
“I ain’t dead. I’m here. I’ll be ready to rock at 3:30,” Anthony said.
Back when second-round appearances were the norm in New York, the Pacers were a regular rival in the spring. The Knicks and Pacers met in three straight years from 1993-95, then again from 1998-00.
The occasional Reggie Miller outburst notwithstanding, those series were usually about low scores and hard fouls, much like this one probably will be. Anthony was used to games in the 90s and 100s in the West, but knows Indiana will prefer to keep this in the 80s or even 70s.
“They’re the best 3-point shooting team in history. They made more 3s this year than any other team in NBA history. So we understand what they’re capable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We led the league in guarding the 3 this year. We have a great deal of confidence that we can guard them if we execute our defense the way we’re supposed to.”
The Pacers held the Knicks to just 37 percent shooting while splitting the four-game season series, including a 125-91 victory in February that was New York’s worst loss of the season. Anthony was 4 of 17 from 3-point range and the Knicks had ugly numbers all over their roster, from Jason Kidd (3 of 20) to Iman Shumpert (4 of 15) to Pablo Prigioni (2 of 10). Amare Stoudemire shot 5 of 16 and Steve Novak was 9 of 28.
Stoudemire, still recovering from knee surgery, will practice during the lengthy break between Game 2 on Tuesday and Game 3, with the hope of returning Saturday at Indiana. Novak is still battling back spasms and is expected to sit out the opener.
As for Shumpert and Prigioni, they combined to hit seven 3-pointers in the clincher at Boston, their improved offensive games part of the reason the Knicks aren’t worried about the regular-season results.
“We’re a different team than when we were early in the year, too,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “I think we’re a much more defined team versus when we played them early in the season.”
Neither team looked good in the first round. Anthony missed 19 straight 3-pointers before hitting a big one as the Knicks stopped the Celtics’ frantic rally that cut a 26-point deficit to four in the final period of Game 6. Paul George, Indiana’s All-Star, managed just four points on 2-of-10 shooting as the Pacers closed out the Hawks on Friday in Atlanta.
But the offensive side of the ball is secondary to the Pacers. Vogel said he was “very encouraged” by the way they defended in the final two games against Atlanta after dropping Games 3 and 4.
“That’s what I talked to them mostly about this morning,” he said. “When we play our defense with the energy and passion (of) the last two games, we can be dominant on the defensive end. Not just good, but dominant. I don’t think it matters who you’re playing. I think you can be dominant exercising those fundamentals with the passion and energy.”
He will be willing to use multiple players on Anthony, who is out of the first round for just the second time in his career. The Knicks won just one game in his first two postseasons after former team president Donnie Walsh, who undertook the rebuilding of the Knicks from 2008-11 before returning to the Pacers’ front office, made the deal to acquire the All-Star forward from Denver in February 2011.
Often the target of blame when things go wrong, Anthony was receiving praise Saturday after hitting two big shots that finally turned back the Celtics, but said he wasn’t satisfied yet.
“As far as my mindset goes, I haven’t did anything yet. We haven’t did anything,” Anthony said. “Yeah, we did something special by winning the first-round series against the Celtics, which was a tough series for us to win, but at the beginning of the season that was our goal. We always felt like we had a team, we put together a team to do something special.”
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