No more paying attention to Bucks, Sixers and Magic games. No more trying to figure out who the first round opponent will be. The playoffs have arrived and the team the Knicks hoped to model when they first signed Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 is the opponent: The Miami Heat.
The playoff history between the two teams has been well chronicled. From 1997-2000, the teams faced each other four times in the postseason. All of those series went the distance, with the Knicks winning the final three series. Things have changed, though. In the ’90s, the two teams were considered mirror images of each other. This time, coming off of an Eastern Conference Championship last season, the Heat are considered the favorite.
However, make no mistake about it, this Knicks team CAN win the series. Here’s some things they must do:
Shumpert must slow Wade: The Miami SG has enjoyed playing against the Knicks this season, averaging 26 points on 52% shooting in three games. However, in that last game, while being guarded mostly by Iman Shumpert, the Marquette alum committed six turnovers. Shumpert played just 20 minutes the first time the two teams met – the game the Knicks turned into a three-point shootout, attempting 43 treys – and missed the second game due to injury. With Wade suffering from a dislocated index finger, Shumpert has to make him work hard for his shots and force him into turnovers. Knicks fans have seen Shumpert lock down some of the league’s best perimeter plays this season (Derrick Rose comes to mind) and they need him to continue that against Wade and the Heat.
Melo must make LeBron work: Kudos to Carmelo Anthony for buying into the team’s defensive mindset. Since Mike Woodson took over, Anthony’s level of interest on defense has seen a complete 360 to what he was brining on defense with Mike D’Antoni as head coach. However, let’s not make Melo out to be Scottie Pippen. He isn’t going to shut anyone down with his defense. Instead, he needs to reverse one of Walt Clyde Frazier’s favorite lines (defense is your best offense). Melo needs to make sure he makes LeBron work on defense; No quick spot-up shots (Melo shot just 37% on spot-ups this season). Whenever Melo gets the ball, he needs to make sure LeBron exhorts all his energy trying to stop him. Make having to run the Heat offense and guarding the Knicks’ best scorer too much for LeBron to handle.
Stoudemire MUST guard Bosh: Not to beat a dead horse, but STAT is horrendous on defense. He has had his moments and it seems like he is trying his best, but overall the defense is just bad. Conventional wisdom would say to put Tyson Chandler on Chris Bosh. However, if the Knicks do that, you pull your best interior defender and rebounder away from the rim. The combo of Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony will have a field day under the rim if Tyson has to guard Bosh. Simply, Amare HAS to guard Bosh.
Mobb Deep vs. Heat’s Bench: The clearest advantage for the Knicks on all levels. Miami lacks a scorer off the bench to the caliber of J.R. Smith. While Shane Battier gives Miami very good defense and the corner three off the bench, he can’t go off like Smith can. Norris Cole’s production has fallen off since his hot start. Meanwhile, Mike Bibby has given the Knicks very good minutes off the bench in April. Past Haslem, Miami has to depend on the walking injury that is Ronny Turiaf (we still love you in NY Ronny!) and Eddy Curry (did I just write that). Safe to say the combo of Jeffries/Gadzuric/Jorts is much better than the Miami bigs off the bench. Last but not least, Mr. Steve “Novakaine” Novak. He finished the season leading the league in three-point shooting percentage and is facing the team that gave up the second most threes in the league, as well as the fifth worst defending the three, percentage wise. Novak was 8-for-16 from beyond the arc in three games vs. the Heat this season, and I wouldn’t count out even better shooting from Novakaine.
There are other keys as well (slowing LBJ and Wade on the fast break, not turning the ball over, hitting the boards) the Knicks must focus on the pull off the upset, but I highlighted what I believe to be the keys. So how do things shake out? I say the teams split the first four, each winning one at home and the road. The home teams then win both Games 5 & 6, setting up what could be an epic Game 7. And as the cliché goes, anything can happen in Game 7.