Knicks vs. Pacers preview: Reversal of fortune out East

Bruce Bennett

Indiana has moved within 2.5 games of New York and they'll have a golden opportunity to narrow that margin even closer with Carmelo Anthony suspended for Thursday's game.

Through the first 20 games of the season, the Knicks were 15-5 and the Pacers were 10-10. However, Indiana has begun to finds its groove over the last month, while New York has come back to Earth.

Thanks to an 11-4 stretch, the Pacers have moved to third place in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games behind the Knicks. As a result, their TNT game on Thursday night in Indianapolis has huge implications for both teams.

New York will be without Carmelo Anthony, who's been suspended one game for his role in a cereal-related fracas with Kevin Garnett on Monday night, where the two had to be separated on the court and nearly came to blows in the bowels of Madison Square Garden after the game.

Carmelo's absence could be a big opportunity for Amare Stoudemire, who's been somewhat marginalized in the four-out system with Carmelo at the 4 that has been the key to the Knicks' success this year. Stoudemire is coming off his best game since returning from injury, scoring 13 points on 5-6 shooting with two rebounds and two assists in their loss to the Celtics.

For Indiana, the big story coming into the game is the play of Paul George, coming off a dominating 29-point performance in the Pacers' 87-77 victory over the Heat on Tuesday. George, a hyper-athletic 6'8, 220 small forward in his third year out of Fresno State, has had to take on a much larger role in the Indiana offense with Danny Granger sidelined.

His play in recent weeks has helped fuel the Pacers' resurgence while his name has begun to appear in All-Star talks. Another strong game, this time on national TV, could do wonders for his profile within the league.

With Boston struggling and Chicago trying to stay afloat without Derrick Rose, there's a bit of a power vacuum in the East behind Miami. New York has been slated to fill that role for most of the season, but a win at Conseco Field House on Thursday could force people to start reevaluating Indiana.

The game will be broadcast on TNT at 8 p.m. EST. The Pacers are currently favored by five points, according to OddsShark.

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