Indianapolis • A sick feeling is emanating through the New York Knicks.
The offense is struggling, their playoff hopes teetering and key players are missing practice.
That’s not how coach Mike Woodson intended to spend Sunday afternoon following an abysmal Game 3 performance that left the Knicks in a 2-1 hole and in a precarious position heading into Tuesday night’s game at Indiana. Two of his top players — guard J.R. Smith and forward Kenyon Martin — didn’t even make it to the workout because they were ill.
“We’ve got to be careful that this thing doesn’t spread and other guys start dropping so we kept them back at the hotel,” Woodson said.
There’s no telling if either player will return in time to make an impact in Game 4, which has become essential for the Knicks to keep their playoff drive alive.
Something is clearly wrong with the sickly shooting Knicks.
On Saturday, New York made just 35.2 percent from the field and its vaunted 3-point shooting vanished as they went 3-for-11 from beyond the arc. The result was a stinging 82-71 loss in which the Knicks flirted with a franchise-record scoring low. The record is 67. New York didn’t top that until Martin’s dunk with 1:39 left in a game that had already been decided.
Nobody played well.
NBA scoring champ Carmelo Anthony finished with a team-high 21 points but managed only two of those points in the fourth quarter, when he was 0 of 3 from the field.
Smith, the NBA’s top sixth man, played just hours after spiking a 102-degree fever that nearly kept him out. He wound up making just 4 of 12 shots to actually improve his shooting percentage in the first three games. He’s 11 of 42 from the field in the series.
Woodson used Martin as one of the defenders against Pacers center Roy Hibbert, but Hibbert finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds against a full complement of seemingly healthy big men from New York.
Now for the second time in a week, Woodson and his players are trying to figure out how to counter Indiana’s tough, stingy defense.
“I watched the tape myself and there’s open looks,” center Tyson Chandler said. “You have to sacrifice yourself sometimes for the betterment of the team. I think we need to do a better job of allowing the game to dictate who takes the shots. You get in a situation where you want to take over the game or you want to make a big shot where you have to stick to the game plan. Good teams win basketball games unless you’re a great, great, great, great individual.”
The Pacers actually shot worse than New York, making only 35.0 percent of their shots, but pulled away for their fourth straight home win in the playoffs because they forced 15 turnovers, outrebounded the Knicks 53-40 and outscored New York 20-10 on second-chance points.
Coach Frank Vogel couldn’t have asked for much more, so on Sunday, he gave his team another day off.
But with a second chance to take a commanding lead in the series, the Pacers view Saturday’s victory as just a starting point.
“They’re a tremendously talented team,” Hibbert said. “With Game 4, we always have a mindset that they’re going to be perfect.”
The Pacers know they must play just as well to send the Knicks back to Madison Square Garden in a 3-1 hole.
What can New York do to get back in the series?
Woodson had hoped the return of Amare Stoudemire from a two-month layoff following knee surgery would help the Knicks inside Saturday. Instead, Stoudemire looked rusty, scoring seven points and grabbing just two rebounds in nine minutes. Steve Novak, who missed the first game of the series played sparingly in Game 2, even less time in Game 3 and still has not scored in the series.
Smith and Anthony have continued to struggle shooting the ball, combining to go 40 for 112 in three games.
And now Martin is under the weather, too.
But the Knicks believe they can — and will — start playing better.
“We’re going to need everybody playing Tuesday night on all cylinders,” Woodson said. “We don’t want to go back down 3-1. That would be a tough climb for us.”