Currently leading the season series 2-1, the Knicks (43-33) take on the Heat (40-36) in a game with crucial playoff seeding implications.
Following a much-needed reset game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night, the Knicks will gear up to face a deep Heat team. If New York can pull this one out, their path to maintaining the 5th seed becomes a whole lot easier. A loss could shake things up toward the bottom of the playoff race. Thankfully for the Knicks, the Heat dropped games to the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets, giving New York a three-game cushion. Regardless, a full-team effort will be needed, especially against a Heat team that is looking to claw its way out of the play-in race.
The Heat will be without Kyle Lowry for this one, as he has not been cleared to play in back-to-backs with his lingering knee injury. Jimmy Butler is also designated as day-to-day with a neck injury. Butler was a surprise scratch from the lineup yesterday, but it makes sense that he is resting up for one of the more important games to finish the regular season slate. On the other side, Jalen Brunson is yet again listed as questionable with a sprained right hand. As nice as it would be to have him back for one of the most important games of the regular season, don’t be surprised if he ends up sitting out once again. The last time the Knicks played the Heat at home was just under two months ago when the Knicks took care of business without Jalen Brunson. Although the guard play was weak in that game, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle led the team to a two-point victory.
In this game, especially if Brunson sits out, the play of Immanuel Quickley will be crucial to what the Knicks do on both sides of the floor. With Brunson missing time here and there during the month of March, IQ has stepped up to the plate and shined on the national stage. For March, Quickley is averaging 19.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.2 rebounds on 59.7% true shooting. With the success he’s had within the last few months, his statistics and his impact have put him as the favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Against Houston he showed off his skill set once more, finishing with a career-high 40 points to go with nine assists. His strong play recently has put the Knicks in positions to win, and another solid performance tonight would help solidify his case and put the Knicks in a comfortable spot as the playoffs loom.
Matchup to Watch: Julius Randle versus Jimmy Butler
While they may not guard each other on every possession tonight, it is an interesting matchup nonetheless, especially with the way they jawed at each other in their last two matchups. Both players draw a significant amount of foul calls when they attack the basket, with Julius Randle currently averaging 7.0 free throw attempts per game while Jimmy Butler averages 8.8 free throw attempts per game. Thankfully, the Knicks as a whole are a top-three team in the league when it comes to free throw attempts per game, as they attack the basket as early and often as anyone in the league. But minimizing Butler’s chances at the line will be a huge point of emphasis, considering he hunts for foul calls every single time he has the ball. The last two times the Heat and the Knicks have faced off, Butler got to the line pretty much at will, netting 14 attempts and 20 attempts, respectively. If the Knicks want any chance at winning, they’ll have to defend Butler like they did in early February, when New York held him to just one free throw attempt in 33 minutes of play.
Not only will Julius Randle need to attack the basket in this matchup, but he will need to make the extra pass and create shots for his teammates. After his 43-point outburst in early March in Miami, which included a game-winning three, the Heat game planned him differently in their last matchup, forcing him to defer to his teammates for lower-quality shots. This put the Knicks in a difficult situation for the majority of the game and they eventually lost 127-120. If Randle can make key plays – similar to what he did when the Knicks last hosted Miami – then the Knicks will be in good shape.
Most importantly, Randle will need to keep his cool. In a high-intensity matchup against one of the grittier teams in the league, Julius cannot let his emotions get the best of him. In games where he has displayed this type of nature to the referees and other plays, the end result has rarely been one that they would like to see. While there are many aspects that will prove key to Randle and the Knicks’ success tonight, getting to the free throw line, staying composed, and playing unselfish team basketball will take them to where they want to go.
Another great example of Randle exposing the weak side in Miami’s defensive sets.— Jake Brown (@JakeBrownNBA) February 3, 2023
A quick entry pass from Barrett sends the Heat scrambling and Randle fires a pass to the corner for a crucial three from QG.
S/O to Grimes staying ready! pic.twitter.com/OEPr472Jfk
Tip-off is at 7:30 on MSG and MSGGO.