INDIANAPOLIS -- "I hate them."
Reggie Miller didn't hide his feelings Monday as he spoke about the New York Knicks and the Eastern Conference's other great rivalry.
The Pacers' guard stayed away from the "I respect them" line that had cushioned his remarks a day earlier.
"They always think they're bigger and badder than everyone," Miller said. "And we know they don't give us any respect. So why should I give respect or like someone that doesn't give us respect?"
This will be Chapter 6 of Knicks-Pacers in the postseason, a rivalry that has produced some of the most dramatic NBA theater of the past decade. The star of the show has often been the skinny, outspoken sharpshooter who so relishes playing the villain.
Miller has had some of the best performances of his career against the Knicks, most of them coming at Madison Square Garden.
He scored 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5 in 1994, eight points in 11.2 seconds to win Game 1 in 1995, and made a 3-pointer from in front of Spike Lee's courtside seat to force overtime in Game 4 in 1998 and spark Indiana to a series-turning victory.
The Pacers watched Game 7 of the Miami-New York series together Sunday afternoon, then held a practice in the evening. They held another practice Monday while the Knicks returned to New York from Miami and prepared to fly to Indianapolis later in the day.
"Personally, I wanted to play New York, somewhat exorcise some demons," said Miller, who has been playing some of the best playoff basketball of his career during this postseason.
"We have beaten New York, but it's never been in a conference final. Detroit had to get by Boston, Chicago had to get past Detroit. So there's always that team you've got to get by to get to the next level, and New York is that team for us."
Indiana and New York met in the conference finals in 1994 and 1999, the Knicks winning both times. The Pacers won second-round matchups in 1995 and 1998, and the Knicks beat Indiana in the first round in 1993, when their playoff rivalry began.
The Pacers and Knicks went after each other extra hard in the regular season, showing flashes of lingering animosity that has disappeared from the Knicks-Heat rivalry.
New York forward Kurt Thomas threw a punch at Jalen Rose during a Christmas Day game, and Miller grabbed his crotch and mouthed obscenities at fans in New York at a game Feb. 19.
"You never like losing, but I hate losing to them," Miller said.
The teams split the season series 2-2, each winning twice at home. The Pacers will have homecourt advantage in this series, with Games 1 and 2 at Conseco Fieldhouse today and Thursday before the series shifts to New York for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday.
Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn't playing into the rivalry hype Monday, instead saving his most critical comments for the way Miami complained about the officiating after it lost Game 7 on Sunday in the conference semifinals.
"It irritates me and it's disappointing that it's hard for teams to give credit when they lose. It's always some external force," Van Gundy said. "If we had lost, I would hope my players would have handled themselves differently."
The Pacers have done their share of complaining, too, tossing out small market vs. big market conspiracy theories after the referees failed to call offensive goaltending on Patrick Ewing when he redirected Larry Johnson's 3-pointer into the basket near the end of a Pacers-Knicks game in April.
On the flip side, the Knicks weren't at all happy with the referees in late March when the Pacers went to the free-throw line 14 times to New York's none during the fourth quarter of a game at Indiana on March 22.
New York defeated Indiana 4-2 in last year's Eastern Conference finals despite playing the final four games without Ewing and the second half of Game 6 without Johnson.
Latrell Sprewell moved into the starting lineup for the Knicks during that series and has been there ever since, while Indiana's small forward, Jalen Rose, had to wait until this season to replace Chris Mullin in the starting five.
The other big difference this year is the absence of the traded Antonio Davis, who gave the Pacers a big body off the bench to match up with New York's front line. Austin Croshere, more of a shooter than a banger, has taken Davis' spot as the first forward off the bench for the Pacers.
Pacers coach Larry Bird spoke Monday about the need for his team to take the next big step and get to the finals. Indiana has been eliminated in the conference finals in four of the past six seasons.
When Bird was asked if he hates the Knicks, the former Boston Celtics great said it was hard for him to get angry with a team "when I have more championship rings than they do."
No player on either team matches Miller's strong feelings about the rivalry.
As he sat with the media Monday morning wearing a floppy hat, sunglasses and sandals, he made it clear how excited he was to have another shot at the Knicks. As for his feelings, it was pointed out that "hate" is a strong word.
"It is a very strong word," Miller said, not backing down.
Strong word, strong rivalry.
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