Two Game 7s: Key players, X-Factors for Pacers vs. Knicks, Timberwolves vs. Nuggets

A 1990s rivalry is renewed and living up to the hype. The defending champions pushed to the brink by a defensive-minded team of young upstarts.

Half of the NBA's final four teams will be decided on Sunday in two huge Game 7s: First the Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks, then the Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets.

Let's break these Game 7s down, starting in the East.

Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks

How to Watch Pacers vs. Knicks

Game 7 between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks airs at 3:30 Eastern on ABC.

What is the Knicks’ X-Factor?

The better way to phrase this is, can Josh Hart lace them up and play for the Knicks? He is officially questionable to play.

Hart has been the workhorse for the Knicks this series, playing 84% of the minutes possible against the Pacers until he had to leave Game 6 with an abdominal injury.

OG Anunoby also has been upgraded to questionable, although ESPN previously reported he would not be able to play in Game 7.

If Hart can't go on Sunday, he would join Bojan Bogdanovic, Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle as key Knicks out injured. Or, look at it this way: Without Hart and Anunoby, the Knicks head into Game 7 with just four players who played in Game 1: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Isaiah Hartenstein and Miles McBride.

"We have more than enough, whoever's on the court," DiVincenzo told reporters.

Brunson will play big at home, but one of those other three has to step up, and DiVincenzo is the most likely candidate. If Brunson gets help, the Knicks can win behind the energy in Madison Square Garden.

What is the Pacers’ X-Factor?

Tyrese Haliburton's aggressiveness.

Everything for the Pacers starts with him attacking. Haliburton doesn't have to score 30+ as he did in Games 2 and 3 of this series — although it would help — but he can't have single-digit shot attempts and be floating through the game as he has done a couple of times in this series, including Game 5 in the Garden. The Pacers will need Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner to have big games, too, but it has to start with an aggressive Haliburton.


Does Josh Hart play? Can he be close to himself? If the answer is yes, we'll bet on the energy of the Madison Square Garden crowd pushing their Knicks into the Eastern Conference Finals. However, if he's out, it's just one injury too many and Indiana advances.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets

How to Watch Timberwolves vs. Nuggets

Game 7 between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets airs at 8 Eastern on TNT.

What is the Timberwolves’ X-Factor?

While it's tempting to say, Anthony Edwards — he's their best player — but doesn't it feel like that, even at age 22, he is ready for the moment? Expect a monster game from Edwards.

That shifts the pressure to Karl-Anthony Towns. He 4-of-10 for 10 points in the Game 6 Minnesota rout but will have to do more in Game 7 on the road. Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley stepped up last game, and either of them or Naz Reid off the bench could be a big boost for the Timberwolves. However, a lot is going to be asked of Towns on both ends — he will have the Jokic assignment — and the game could come down to his play.

What is the Nuggets’ X-Factor?

Jamal Murray.

Nikola Jokic is going to step up at home like an MVP, but the Nuggets have turned throughout the postseason on how Murray has played through his calf injury. For the postseason, he has averaged 19.3 points a game but has needed 20.2 shots a game to get there — his 45.8 true shooting percentage in the playoffs is concerning (and well below his 58.6 regular season number). Minnesota has great perimeter defenders like McDaniels and has defended Murray well, but he is not as explosive as he was pre-injury.

If Denver is going to advance to the Western Conference Finals, it will be because Murray stepped up in the biggest moment.


Denver has been there, done that, and is at home — the Nuggets get the nod. But this will be a close game and it could go either way.