The Knicks and the Heat will battle it out in one of the more anticipated first round match-ups in this year’s NBA playoffs. It happens to be a rematch of the 1999 playoffs where the Knicks knocked off the Heat in the 1st round only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA finals. Will history repeat itself? I sure hope so, but Knicks analyst Alan Hahn doesn’t think the Knicks can pull off the upset, though he hopes they will prove him wrong.
Keys to Winning the Series:
1. Rebounding: Most fans/analysts have justified the Heat being a better matchup for the Knicks due to Chicago’s overwhelming rebounding advantage. While the Knicks (41.7) have out rebounded the Heat (41.6) by .1 this season, Miami has dominated the boards in their 3 regular season match-ups- winning the battle each time, and collecting 20 more rebounds than New York over the three games.
2. Bench Production: “Mobb Deep” has the clear advantage over the Heat reserves. We got to see just how effective the Heat bench is in a hard-to-watch Heat vs. Celtics matchup followed by 2 straight losses to the Washington Wizards (Big 3- rest). It helps that J.R. Smith and Steve Novak do their most damage around the perimeter, possibly one of the few weaknesses of Miami’s intimidating defense. The Knicks bench produces 30 PPG, 12 RPG and 6.2 APG, while the Heat bench scores just 24.6 PPG, 15.1 RPG and 4.8 APG. Lost in the Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire talk is just how important the bench will be throughout this series. It’s clearly a place where the Knicks can and have to take advantage. If Novak and Smith can get their shots to fall, this will be a series to remember.
3. Minimal Turnovers/Transition Defense: It’s no secret the Miami Heat thrive in the open floor. How do they get in the open floor? Turnovers. Amar’e Stoudemire said postgame that the Knicks have to minimize their turnovers, and he couldn’t be more right. In their three meetings this season, the Knicks have turned the ball over 19 times for 26 points, 19 times for 16 points and 16 turnovers for 18 points. Those stats are just astonishing considering the Knicks gave up 63 combined points off of turnovers compared to the Heat’s 33. I think I made the point, but the fact of the matter is- turnovers are inevitable which means New York has to be on the top of their transition defense. I count on tenacious defenders like J.R. Smith and Iman “Rook” Shumpert to force the Heat into their half court offense- as opposed to easy fast break points.
4. Tyson Chandler: The probable Defensive Player of the Year will be a huge asset for the Knicks- which is why hearing he had “flu like” symptoms was so breathtaking. He’s a leader, a champion, and a last but not least- a great defender. He’s played and beat the Heat before (NBA Finals), so he doesn’t lack the experience or the heart- it’s up to the rest of the team to back him up.
The Melo vs. LeBron matchup is the most highly anticipated one of the series. While no one’s been hotter than Carmelo Anthony in the month of April, no one’s been hotter than LeBron James all year. The probable MVP is still searching for his first championship following last year’s loss in the NBA finals- and this year, he hopes to go all the way. Carmelo Anthony has been content with where he’s been as a player. He knows he’s a great scorer, and so does everyone else- but is her a winner? The furthest Anthony’s been in the post-season is the Western Conference Finals, and I think he may finally starting to feel the pressure of building a legacy. This is his time to shine, and I think he’s going to use this stage to show what a dominate force he really is. However, he’ll have to get through LeBron first. LeBron James is arguably one of the NBA’s top defenders, but he’s had trouble guarding Carmelo before- assigning Veteran Shane Battier to the All-Star. Their numbers this month are almost identical-Carmelo Anthony: 29.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 3.6 APG LeBron James: 29.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 4.9 APG- but they’ll BOTH need help from their teammates.
Since day 1, the “Rook” has declared himself a defensive force, backing down from no one. In a way, he was just what the Knicks needed, someone aside from Tyson Chandler to reinforce the importance of defense. With just 59 games under his belt, people are calling him one of the best 1-on-1 defenders in the league- and they’re not far off. His most recent impressive performance came on Easter Sunday vs. the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose. Shumpert guarded Rose on 10 of his 26 shot attempts, forcing eight misses and seven turnovers on those plays. Granted it was Rose’s first game back (ankle/groin), but the Rookie will have to have an equally impressive performance when he takes on his biggest and most significant challenge to date, Dwyane Wade. He didn’t exactly contain Wade on April 15th- where Wade shot 10-18 for 28 points. Shumpert got into early foul trouble, something he CAN’T do in this series. This matchup absolutely depends on how the game is called. Without Shumpert’s defensive presence, Wade will have his way on the court. Side note: Keep an eye out for Wade’s dislocated finger.
There’s no telling how effective Bosh will be in this series. He sat out the last seven games of the regular season and is dealing with a hamstring injury- so although he may be well rested, there’s always the possibility of rust. It’s Stoudemire’s job to take full advantage of that rust. Since returning from a back injury, STAT has averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 4 games. Last night we got a chance to see him look the best he’s looked as he posterized Tyrus Thomas. Though it was comforting to watch, we knew his offense would come back easily- it’s his defense that’s worrisome. He came back to a different team than when he left, and the now defensive minded Knicks need Stoudemire to be all in on BOTH ends of the floor. To be honest, he’s looked downright awful defensively since his return- something that just won’t cut it in this cut throat series. Most importantly, Amar’e is THE x-factor in this series. With Carmelo Anthony the main focus, Amar’e needs to take full advantage and be another source of scoring- whether he takes it to the rim or decides to hit the 15-foot jumper. In their April 15th meeting, Carmelo scored 42 points and the Knicks still fell to the Heat- proving he can’t do it alone. This time around, with help from Stoudemire, it could be a different story.
Norris Cole: Got off to a great start to his Rookie season. He’s quick and capable of scoring, but is unable to run the team in the absence of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He averages 6.8 PPG and 2.0 APG, but is certainly containable.
Mike Miller: Miller has played just 39 games this season due to injury. He’s a lethal 3-point shooter, shooting 45% from beyond the arc. In 3 games vs. New York this season, he’s strugglesd- averaging just 4 points in 16 minutes.
James Jones: Jones hasn’t seen a ton of playing time this season, averaging just 13 MPG. In 1 game vs. the Knicks, he scored 5 points in 25 minutes. Known for his 3-point shooting, Jones is shooting just 40% from downtown on the season.
Shane Battier: Known for his defense, the Heat will be counting on Battier to contain Carmelo Anthony when LeBron is on the bench. Carmelo was able to get the best of him in April’s showdown, but the Heat got the last laugh. Battier averaged 6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 3 games with the Knicks this season and has to be contested around the perimeter with his ability to drain the outside shot.
Udonis Haslem: Haslem is a persistent rebounder, averaging 7.3 in just 25 minutes on the floor. The Knicks have to keep him off the boards. He can also knock down the mid-range jumper, averaging 6 PPG.
Steve Novak: “Novakaine” leads the league shooting 47% from beyond the arc. Even if he can’t get off a shot in this series, Novak will demand attention, spreading the floor for Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks squad. Don’t get me wrong, he has to score- but he can still be effective on the court if his shots aren’t falling.
J.R. Smith: Smith has finally found his way after struggling early on in his Knick career. He’s having a great month as well averaging 16 PPG, 4.4 RPG and 4.2 APG. Better yet, he’s heading into the playoffs exactly how anyone would want to- playing great basketball. J.R is coming off of 2 straight 20-point, 5 assist, 3 steal games, and looking to add to that. Let’s just hope he can contain himself while guarding a player beyond the 3-point line.
Jared Jeffries: Jeffries did practice today with a knee brace and is expected to play, but who knows for how long. He’s always been one of my favorites because he does all of the dirty work. He has mastered taking charges and leads the team in that category- something the Knicks could really use vs. a Heat team that loves drawing the offensive foul.
Landry Fields: After not showing up in last year’s playoffs vs. the Celtics, I’m hoping some experience has given Fields the confidence to play aggressively- not intimidated. He’s thrives when he cuts to the basket and puts arc on his otherwise flat shot. Landry Fields is effective, he rebounds, he passes and he scores- he just has to do it consistently now, for a possible 7 straight games.