Ewing's ailing foot gives Knicks a leg up on Pacers, some say; 5-1 without the center, New York still wants him ready for Game 5


NEW YORK - To recap, Patrick Ewing has missed a playoff game against the Indiana Pacers six times over the past two seasons.

And five times the New York Knicks have won, including Monday's 91-89 victory at Madison Square Garden.

Six games. Five victories. The more success the Knicks have against Indiana without Ewing, who sat out for the second straight game with acute peroneal tendinitis, the more you have to wonder if they're better off playing the Pacers without their starting center.

"Sure seems that way, doesn't it?" Indiana center Rik Smits said after the Knicks tied the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece Monday.

Ewing tested his ailing right foot during warm-ups by taking three shots, then decided he couldn't play. He hopes to come back in Game 5 tonight in Indiana.

"If you look at the percentages," Smits said, "I hope he comes back."

Jeff Van Gundy can't believe this is an issue.

"You know what makes me laugh about that number now is how the media can manipulate," said the Knicks coach, who once again found himself defending Ewing Monday night.

"He played seven minutes in the last game at Indiana, but we count that as with him. That makes that number look a little better. Plus he's never played a home game in that stretch. That makes it look a little bit better, too. I always like how that gets manipulated."

The Knicks lost Game 2 of this series, in which Ewing played just seven minutes before leaving because of his injury. Of the six games they've played against Indiana without Ewing these past two seasons, all but last year's Game 5 were at the Garden. (The Knicks won that game.)

But still, it's unquestionable that the Knicks look a little different without Ewing.

"It makes us more of an up-tempo team instead of slowing the ball down and dumping it into Pat and letting him do his thing," forward Marcus Camby said. "That's more to our favor. We're more versatile. We can get up and down the court."

"I don't think it means anything," guard Latrell Sprewell said. "We're just trying to beat these guys, whatever it takes.

"I hope we have Patrick to help us," Sprewell said. "I know how important he is to this team. It's not really fair to Patrick to say that [that the Knicks are better without him]. If he's there, we can easily win those games, too."

Chris Dudley replaced Ewing in the starting lineup for the second game in a row. Dudley had a couple of important offensive rebounds in the second half, and Kurt Thomas defended Smits well and scored a career playoff-high 16 points.

Ewing had hoped to play but couldn't. "It was too much pain," he said. "I couldn't cut. I would have been a liability."

However, he said Monday, "It feels a lot better today than it did [Sunday] and the day before, so I'm hoping that by Wednesday it will be fine and I'm able to play."

"Without a doubt, we need Patrick," Thomas said. "We need his ability to score. We need his rebounding, his ability to block shots. But when he's not in the game, we try to push the ball up the floor and just try to get as many easy baskets as we can."

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