(Sports Network) - Two of the Eastern Conference's best teams square off Wednesday night when the Atlantic-Division leaders, the New York Knicks, visit the best in the Central, the Indiana Pacers.
These two squads are second and third in the Eastern Conference, both trailing the Miami Heat. This will be the first game back after the All-Star break for both sides, which were well-represented in Sunday's showcase of the elite.
Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks started for the East and Tyson Chandler made his first All-Star team. Paul George of the Pacers also played in his first All- Star Game.
"Any time you get a chance to play with guys that you don't really get to play with, and they're the elite guys, it was just fun," said George.
Fun time is over and it's back to business.
"This is definitely a game we'll be up for. We're only a game-and-a-half back from New York and it's very possible that we can move up to the second seed," said George.
Wednesday's game should be a grueling battle between the league's third and fourth-best defenses in terms of opponents' scoring. Indiana is third, but best in the NBA in opponents' field-goal percentage. New York is fourth in opponents' scoring.
The Pacers won six of eight before the break, including a victory last Wednesday at home over the Charlotte Bobcats. That snapped a two-game home losing streak for Indiana, which hadn't lost two in a row at home in a full year.
It seemed like Danny Granger was all set to return for the Pacers in the Bobcats game, but the flu sidelined him further. His head coach has appeared to slow on the idea of an imminent Granger return.
"I don't want him coming back until he feels 100 percent ready," said Frank Vogel.
The Knicks are ready to begin their march toward an Atlantic Division title, which would be the first for the team since the 1993-94 season where they lost to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
"The weekend is over, now it's back to business," Anthony said.
The Knicks lost their last two before the break, both at home. They fell to the Los Angeles Clippers a week ago Sunday, then dropped a 92-88 decision to the Toronto Raptors last Wednesday.
Like almost all NBA teams at this juncture in the season, trade rumors abound for the Knicks, mostly revolving around young guard Iman Shumpert. Phoenix and Orlando have been mentioned as possible destinations.
The Knicks own a 2 1/2-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division, but their margin over the Pacers for second in the Eastern Conference is down to 1 1/2 games. Maybe a trade would solidify their status in the East.
The Knicks and Pacers split their first two matchups, each winning at home. New York has lost its last two in Indianapolis, but won the two before that.