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NBA PLAYOFFS / EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS : Knicks Regroup, Confront Mirror Image in Hot Pacers


NEW YORK — Those dreaded Huns from the Midwest, the Chicago Bulls, have finally been sent away, leaving the New York Knicks to use Monday to heal from an emotional and physical seven-game series and to also remember one thing.

Those weren't even the conference finals.

These are, the best-of-seven meeting with the Indiana Pacers beginning tonight at Madison Square Garden. For the Knicks, it's a showdown with the league's hottest team, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Ready or not.

"We won, but it's a dead issue," Knick guard John Starks said of the Bulls series. "We have to worry about Indiana because our season doesn't stop with the Chicago Bulls."

Said Pacer Coach Larry Brown of the Knicks: "They've prepared themselves to play. The Knicks have talked all along about what great shape they're in. They know what it is to play in big games and big series, and that's something that may be in their favor."

Experience is an obvious Knick advantage, although the biggest might be the home-court edge. The Pacers, off since Thursday night, had never before made it out of the first round but went 7-2 against Orlando and Atlanta, despite being the lower-seeded team in each matchup, then waited out the final two games of the New York-Chicago scrum.

And now the Pacers get a chance to put another notch on their pistol. So the Knicks swept the season series, 4-0, and held Indiana to 84, 91, 82 and 82 points. So what? Indiana split with the Magic during the regular season and then went 3-0 in the playoffs, and lost the season series to the Hawks, 3-2, but needed only six games to beat the East's No. 1 team in the playoffs.

And besides, New York broke 100 only once in the four earlier meetings.

"Indiana is almost a mirror image of us," New York's Anthony Mason said. "They work hard and they bang the boards. We can't celebrate too long because we have another tough series."

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