INDIANAPOLIS – The New York Knicks got good and bad news out of shootaround on Tuesday morning.
The good news was that J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were both back in the gym after missing practice with illnesses the last two days. Smith had been sick since before Game 3, in which he shot 4-for-12 and played just 25 minutes, the fewest of any playoff game in which he wasn’t ejected.
Expect both Martin and Smith, two of the Knicks’ three top subs, to play in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). But one of them might need to start, because it sounds doubtful that Iman Shumpert will be able to play.
Shumpert injured his left knee — the same knee he had ACL surgery on last year — in Game 3 and was held out of practice on Monday, but both he and Knicks coach sounded optimistic that he would be able to play in Game 4.
That optimism wasn’t there Tuesday morning though. In fact, Shumpert wasn’t there Tuesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, awaiting the arrival of the Knicks’ orthopedist, who was flying in from New York.
“They’ll evaluate him and give us an assessment this evening,” Woodson said. “He’s had some swelling the last two days, so they’re going to take a closer look at it and make sure everything’s OK.”
If Shumpert can’t play, it will be the ultimate test of Woodson’s Smith-is-not-allowed-to-start policy. New York has had a multitude of injuries this season and no Knick has played more games than Smith, but he hasn’t started a single one.
Ronnie Brewer, who was eventually traded for a second-round pick, started 34 games. James White, whose offensive skills leave a lot to be desired, started 16 games. And Chris Copeland, who Woodson doesn’t fully trust defensively, started 13. Smith? Zero.
But now, the Knicks’ season is on the line. Would Woodson start Copeland, who has played just 19 minutes in the series thus far? Would he dare start Smith? Or would he maybe go big, with Martin up front and Carmelo Anthony sliding to small forward?
“I haven’t even given that a thought,” Woodson said about who would replace Shumpert if he can’t play, “because I thought he would be here this morning.”
A lineup of Smith and the Knicks other four starters — Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler — has played just 16 minutes together (seven of those in the playoffs) this season. Martin and Chandler, meanwhile, have played just 12 minutes together in this series, and Anthony has been on the floor (at the three) for just six of those 12 minutes.
Woodson has a very interesting decision to make, but more important than who starts is what the Knicks would be losing without Shumpert. He’s their best perimeter defender and he’s the one role player that hasn’t been afraid to shoot in this series. Anthony leads the Knicks with 18 field goals from outside the paint over the three games, but Shumpert is second on the list with eight.
Whether or not Shumpert plays, we may see Steve Novak, who has played just seven minutes over the first three games, make an appearance on Tuesday. Jason Kidd has missed his last 15 shots and Prigioni doesn’t shoot quickly off the catch, so if Woodson wants to use Anthony as the pick-and-roll ball handler more, he’ll need another shooter out there. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday morning that Novak makes you “play four-on-four ,” because he’s so dangerous of a shooter.