Patrick Ewing has experienced his trial run. Now it's time for him to truly play the hero if the New York Knicks want to have any chance of extending their improbable season.

Ewing will make his return to Madison Square Garden on Saturday as the Knicks, trailing 2-0 in the best-of-7 second round, resume their series against the Indiana Pacers."I don't think it (timing) will be all the way back, but it will be better," Ewing said Friday, one day after he made a rusty return in Game 2 in his first action since fracturing his wrist Dec. 20.

Ewing went through a full practice Friday and coach Jeff Van Gundy said the center had no complaints about the health of his surgically repaired wrist. A warm welcome was expected for Ewing in his first home game in almost five months.

"I've been working toward this ever since the cast came off," Ewing said.

Van Gundy said the Knicks will need improvement from everyone, not just Ewing, to have a chance at winning Game 3 and setting up the possibility of tying the series Sunday in Game 4.

The coach pulled Allan Houston aside during practice and implored him to be more assertive offensively. Van Gundy also will need Larry Johnson, Charles Oakley and John Starks to find ways to score while simultaneously adjusting to Ewing's presence in the lineup.

"You can't average 80 points in two games and expect to win against a team as strong as Indiana," Van Gundy said. "The question is do we have enough play-makers, shotmakers and decision-makers to get the job done."

Several of Van Gundy's decisions were being heavily second-guessed Friday, none more than his decision to stick with slumping point guard Chris Childs down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

Childs was left on the court because of his ability to defend Indiana's guards, but his turnover-prone game left many wondering why starter Charlie Ward didn't play.

Van Gundy also was questioned about playing Ewing for 27 minutes and leaving him in the game late in the fourth quarter. "I think him being on the floor gives us our best chance to win," he said.

When it was still pending, Ewing's return was being compared to Willis Reed's famous limp out of the Garden tunnel in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.

In that game, Reed sank his first two shots to spur the Knicks to their first championship. In Ewing's return at Indiana, he had his first two shots blocked and finished 3-for-11 from the field for 10 points.

So it won't be Willis, The Sequel, on Saturday. But it should be a charged atmosphere - and a desperate one - as the Knicks try to maintain a realistic hope of beating a strong and deep opponent.