Eastern semifinals


No. 3 Indiana (58-24) vs.

No. 7 New York (43-39)

Season series: Pacers won 2-1, with the teams splitting the final two games when Patrick Ewing was sidelined.

Last round: Indiana defeated No. 6 Cleveland in four games. New York defeated No. 2 seed Miami in five games.

Key players: Indiana -- Reggie Miller (18.5 ppg), Rik Smits (16.8 ppg, 5.0 rbg), Chris Mullin (10.5 ppg), Mark Jackson (11.0 apg). New York -- Allan Houston (23.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Larry Johnson (20.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg), John Starks (16.8 ppg), Charlie Ward (6.2 apg), Ewing (did not play in first round).

Key matchups: Mark Jackson vs. Charlie Ward. Ward had a calming effect on the Knicks in Sunday's clincher over Miami, handing off 14 assists. He'll face Jackson who, while lacking in speed, has the ability to post up smaller point guards. Allan Houston vs. Reggie Miller. Houston came through big in the opening round against Miami, mostly against an inconsistent Voshon Lenard. It's important that Houston be aggressive on offense and make sure that Miller works hard. Rik Smits vs. Patrick Ewing. Yes, Ewing is expected back at some point in this series, after not having played since shattering his right wrist in December. Just how effective he will be remains to be seen, but his size alone will help counter the 7-foot-4 Smits.

What Indiana has to do to win: Control the inside, where the Pacers will have an advantage of size and strength. And Indiana cannot afford to lose the series opener, when the Knicks will be without Johnson (his two-game suspension concludes tonight) and likely without Ewing.

What New York has to do to win: Houston is going to have to step up his game even more, and continue to do so even after Ewing returns. And the Knicks will have to keep a body on Smits and make it difficult for him to catch the ball. Once he gets the ball on the low post, he should be able to dominate -- at least until Ewing returns. Another key is the play of Starks, who had a big playoff series against Miami after struggling over the latter part of the regular season.

Prediction: Indiana in six.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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