A fraction of the Knicks does what it can against the Pacers

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Steve Novak misses a contested three. (NBA.com)
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It wasn't really the same Knicks team that lost on Thursday night, 81-76, to the Indiana Pacers.

Unlike when they beat the Pacers 88-76 back in November, the Knicks played without Carmelo Anthony, suspended for his series of encounters with Kevin Garnett, and without Raymond Felton, still out recovering from a fractured pinky. The two combined for 37 of the team's 90 shots back in the November win.

But there's more. Ronnie Brewer, back in November, stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, six rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. Thursday night, a vastly different Brewer collected just a single assist in eight otherwise empty minutes.

Rasheed Wallace scored nine points and added seven rebounds in 17 quality minutes back in November. At the moment, he is out indefinitely with a foot injury. 

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Accordingly, J.R. Smith, who'd taken 10 shots back in November's win, took 29 shots in Thursday night's loss. This is no criticism of Smith, who was the only one resembling a scorer on the court for the Knicks. Amar'e Stoudemire is one addition relative to November, but he is still very much a work in progress in just his fifth game back from knee surgery.

The rest of the Knicks, from Tyson Chandler inside to Steve Novak out, generally rely on a point guard to create, and with Felton out, that fell to Jason Kidd, who really ought to be one of those shooters at the receiving end of point guard penetration and kicks, not the one delivering them.

All of which is to say that against a Pacers team who'd just held a full-strength Miami Heat to 77 points, scoring 76 points was the only logical outcome. 

Still, the related question, of what the Knicks can and will be, is anything but negative. This current Knicks team couldn't beat the Pacers, but the full-strength version did easily, and the next one, which will take shape over the next few weeks, should be a good one, too.

They get Anthony back from suspension Friday night against the Bulls. Stoudemire had his best game to date, collecting eight rebounds against one of the league's top rebounding teams. 

More help is coming soon, too. Iman Shumpert, cleared for practice, is expected to provide Ronnie Brewer's defensive presence while shooting far better than Brewer has since his early-season form subsided. Felton is expected back in a few weeks, which is like adding two players; a point guard to run the offense, and freeing up Kidd to resume his role as second passer and designated shooter. That will improve the offensive production of Chandler, Novak and even Stoudemire, who has been forced to essentially create on his own while his quickness is still returning.

They'll also get production from Wallace if he can return, and from Marcus Camby, who had a disspiriting setback in Thursday night's game, re-injuring his foot.

That's quite a bit of improvement, if the Knicks' aged roster can hold up, health-wise. It means a Knicks team that nearly beat the Pacers, in Indiana, will have much more talent to work with.

It is important to put that in perspective. The Pacers have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, just behind the Knicks. And they just beat the Heat, who own the conference's best record. They hardly have to conquer some super team in the conference, firing on all cylinders. The only team in the East who looked like a juggernaut all season has been... the Knicks, back in November.

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