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Pablo Prigioni questionable for Game 1; Chris Copeland may get start

Chris Copeland goes to the hoop against the

Chris Copeland goes to the hoop against the Atlanta Hawks' Johan Petro during a game at Madison Square Garden. (April 17, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Knicks say Pablo Prigioni's status for Saturday's playoff opener against the Celtics is questionable because of his sprained right ankle, potentially opening the door for a surprise starter in Chris Copeland.

Ideally, coach Mike Woodson said he wants to find someone to "duplicate" what Prigioni has provided the Knicks as a starter, which is pressure defense, ballhandling skills and a pass-first mentality. But because the only other person who fits that bill is Jason Kidd, Woodson admittedly has a bit of an issue.

Woodson said he wants to keep Kidd coming off the bench because he and starter Raymond Felton are the only healthy point guards on the roster, so he's more likely to go with a bigger starting lineup.

Enter Copeland, the 6-8 swingman who's been on a scoring spree lately.

"Could be," Woodson said Thursday after practice when asked if Copeland might start in place of an ailing Prigioni. "The way he's played, could be."

Besides starting Copeland, Woodson has few options. He also said he prefers to bring J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Steve Novak off the bench.

And with Copeland playing well recently -- he has averaged more than 28 points in his last three games -- Woodson sounded intrigued by the idea of giving the hot hand an early run of minutes in the playoff opener.

Whichever way Woodson goes, he said his team has to find a way to make up for the potential loss of Prigioni by prioritizing ball movement and defense.

"We can't get away from what's been good to us all season," Woodson said. "It's going to be my job to harp on that and push guys to continue to do the right thing when it comes to our offense."

The pairing of Prigioni with Felton as the Knicks' two-headed starting point guard was a big reason behind their late-season surge. The Knicks went 16-2 after the 35-year-old rookie was inserted as a starter.

Woodson said Prigioni brought "pressure up the floor" to the starting lineup and that Felton will have to pick up the slack if Prigioni can't go in Game 1.

While Felton said "it's great playing with two point guards," he downplayed any adjustments he might have to make without a second ballhandler on the court.

"I play a lot of the game by myself anyway," he said. "We just start out that way."

Prigioni, meanwhile, wasn't available to speak with reporters after practice. Woodson said Prigioni "absolutely" will return at some point during the first-round series against the Celtics.

Right now, however, the coach is not sure whether Prigioni will be available for the series opener, so he's looking elsewhere.

"It doesn't matter who starts in those spots; you've got to play hard and defend those spots," Woodson said. "If Raymond is the solo point guard starting out, he's got to defend that spot. He's got to apply pressure up the floor, just like Pablo does. We've got to extend our defense."

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