Beyond grappling with the Pacers’ size and defensive prowess, Mike Woodson has had to wrestle with his own rotation — whom to start, whom to have come off the bench, how to divvy up the minutes, whether to go big or small and now this: the sudden emergence of Chris Copeland, which is something the Knicks couldn’t have predicted before the start of the series.
Nearly 100 games into the season, Woodson is still tinkering with his lineup, still mixing and matching, still trying to figure out which groupings produce the best results. With the seldom-used Copeland pouring in 13 points in 19 critical minutes in Thursday's series-saving 85-75 win, Woodson has been presented with yet another dilemma: what to do with the slumping Jason Kidd and the comebacking Amar’e Stoudemire and whether to increase Copeland’s minutes in the wake of his breakout performance. The Pacers lead the Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-2 and could clinch a matchup with the Miami Heat with a win Saturday night at home. Yet whom Woodson plays could go a long way toward determining whether the Knicks return to the Garden for Game 7 on Monday.
“We played a different rotation last night and it worked,” Woodson said on a conference call on Friday. “We’re in playoff basketball and in Game 3 and 4 I was searching because we (were) struggling to score the basketball. Game 4 especially (we were) mixing and matching to find combinations and it just didn’t work. That’s what we do as coaches and I thought last night, we went with a different rotation and Chris was more involved with it.”
After being criticized for force-feeding Stoudemire back into the lineup in Game 3 with the forward coming off knee surgery, Woodson declined to play the $100 million big man for the entire seco nd half Thursday, limiting him to just 6:34. In that time, Stoudemire scored just two points and didn’t attempt a field goal. Kidd fared even worse, running his streak to nine playoff games without a point. He even misse d a near-open layup late in the first quarter, causing the Garden crowd to groan. Still, Woodson declined to discuss both players’ situations for Game 6 in Indiana and intimated he still had confidence in them.