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Knicks'll relive past, one way or another
Improbable cast has Pacers facing crossroads, too

NEW YORK -- One more win, and the New York Knicks have a shot at their first title since the days of Willis, Clyde and Earl the Pearl.

One more loss, and the Indiana Pacers go home with their fourth Eastern Conference finals loss in six years."It's a one-game season for us," Reggie Miller said.

Game 6 of the best-of-7 series is tonight, with Madison Square Garden the site of the most important Knick game in five years.

Not since Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, also against Indiana, has New York had a chance to make it to the championship round and go for the franchise's first title since 1973, when Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe led the way.

"I'd like to do it for our fans at home," Latrell Sprewell said. "I'd like to finish Indiana off there."

It's an improbable scenario in which these Knicks find themselves in the second week of June. After a season of underachieving, bickering, backstabbing and barely qualifying for the playoffs, they stand poised to become the lowest-seeded team ever to make the finals. Just look at all the obstacles they are overcoming.

Their franchise center, Patrick Ewing, is walking around in a cast, reduced to cheering on a cast of teammates who were all playing elsewhere five years ago, the last time the Pacers and Knicks went at each other with so much at stake.

Their beleaguered coach, Jeff Van Gundy, still doesn't know how badly the team's management wants him back -- or if they want him back at all.

Their leading scorer, Sprewell, is having to acclimate himself to a sudden shift into the starting lineup.

Their starting center, Chris Dudley, doesn't score.

Their point guards, Chris Childs and Charlie Ward, are providing virtually nothing.

Their fans booed them as recently as Monday night.

"No one thought we would be where we are now," said Marcus Camby, who has emerged as a force in this series. "Just the opportunity to go to the finals is a dream come true for most of us."

What the Pacers have going for them heading into Game 6, aside from their advantages in depth and experience, is the Knicks' recent history of failing to seize the moment and make things easy on themselves.

In the first round, they had an opportunity to finish off the Miami Heat in Game 4 at the Garden but lost.

In this round, they had an opportunity in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead at home but lost.

"The mistake, and I think we made it after Game 3 in the first round, was saying we don't want to go back to Miami," Van Gundy said Thursday. "We need to focus on what we want rather than what we don't want, and that's to go to San Antonio and have a chance for a championship.

"The biggest thing right now for us is how do we break the cycle of win, lose, win, lose. It's very difficult to win two in a row in the playoffs."

The Knicks will need to repeat all the things they forgot about in Game 4 and did well in Game 5 -- pushing the ball upcourt, attacking the basket, hitting the open man, playing aggressively rather than tentatively.

"If we can play our game -- defense, rebounding and unselfish, low-turnover offense, we'll have a chance to win," Van Gundy said. "I want them in the right frame of mind. I don't want them to be preoccupied with the result and tighten up. I want them to go for it.