Published May 15, 2013
GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Pablo Prigioni could return to the starting lineup. Jason Kidd will remain in the rotation.
Whichever players are on the court for the New York Knicks when they try to save their season Thursday night, coach Mike Woodson just wants them to shoot with confidence.
"All you can do is continue to shoot and you shoot the next one, you've got to feel good about that it's going to go in," Woodson said Wednesday at practice while players took some jumpers that, indeed, did go in. "Right now we're kind of looking over our shoulders."
And right at a daunting situation.
The Indiana Pacers can eliminate the Knicks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday. Only eight NBA teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and it's doubtful any of them looked as hopeless offensively as these Knicks.
Averaging 88.3 points on 41.2 percent shooting in the series, the Knicks believe things can be different back on their home floor, though the Pacers looked perfectly comfortable at Madison Square Garden while winning Game 1.
"Every game is huge, it doesn't matter whether it's 0-0, 3-1. It doesn't matter," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said following the Pacers' 93-82 victory in Game 4.
"Every game is huge and we had one closeout game at Atlanta earlier this season in the first round and we were able to come out and give a great effort and we've got to follow the blueprint we shared tonight: great defensive effort, great rebounding effort and selfless passing offensively."
The Knicks managed only 76.5 points per game in two losses in Indianapolis and were outrebounded by huge margins in both games. A change to a bigger lineup was futile Tuesday, so Woodson said he might return to his normal first five Thursday.
New York went 16-2 after moving Prigioni into the starting lineup late in the regular season. Yet not only did he not start for the first time in the series Tuesday, but the Argentine point guard played only 3 1/2 minutes off the bench. Woodson said he is "contemplating" another change.
"I don't know what I'm going to do yet. That lineup has been great for us for two, three months and I went away from it last night to go big and a lot of that was based on guys not being in practice and not too sure about Iman (Shumpert) in terms of his knee," Woodson said.
"I mean there were a lot of things playing into why I did what I did but that lineup has been good and there's a strong chance we could go right back to that lineup."
More Prigioni would likely mean less of Kidd or J.R. Smith, the two Knicks in the deepest slumps. Kidd is 0 for 7 and scoreless in the series, part of a 0-for-16 skid that began with Game 3 against Boston in the first round. The 40-year-old point guard, surely headed for the Hall of Fame, is 3 of 24 in the postseason and hasn't scored since hitting a 3-pointer against the Celtics in Game 2 on April 23. Yet he will get another chance Thursday.
"I'll never kick J-Kidd to the curb, man," Woodson said. "I mean, Kidd has been a positive for our club, our franchise, and these players that play around him. And we all still believe in Kidd. My thing is, I think he still does some of the intangibles — they might not show up in terms of scoring the ball — to help you win."
Smith is 18 of 64 (28 percent) in the series and after Game 4 said he was to blame for the Knicks' problems. Woodson disagreed — "I'm the head coach of the team, blame it on me," he said — and Smith was alternately hard on himself and confident Wednesday.
"You're going to have those spurts during the regular season, but during the playoffs is when the good players become great," Smith said. "Right now, me myself, I'm playing just as average as can be, but my confidence is still up there and my teammates still have the confidence in me, and a lot of guys talked to me today and told me to keep my head up and keep playing. That not only goes for me, it goes for the whole team."
Shumpert said his 0-for-6 performance in Game 4 wasn't caused by any problems with his left knee after he was forced to sit out practice between games because of soreness.
The problems are almost all caused by the Pacers, perhaps the NBA's best defensive team in the regular season and completely locked in again now. All-Star Paul George is containing Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert is protecting the paint and the Knicks just don't know where else to look.
The Pacers haven't been to the conference finals since 2004. Game 6 would be Saturday in Indiana, where the Pacers are 4-0 against the Knicks this season, but say they want to wrap it up in New York.
"I feel like we have to go into New York like we're on our elimination game, like we're about to get eliminated, like we're down 1-3," guard George Hill said after scoring 26 points Tuesday. "So I think if we do that and play with the same type of energy and effort and passion that we played with tonight, we can come away with a win, but it's not going to be easy."
The Knicks' first appearance in the second round since 2000 has been ugly, unable to make shots or grab nearly enough of the ones that miss. But Woodson believes the confident shot-making team that won 54 games can still show up in this series.
"If we can win tomorrow — and I think we'll put ourselves in position to win — then the series has got to go back and then we've got to see what they're made of back there in Game 6," he said. "But tomorrow's a must game."
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney