June 2018
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Knicks Take Their Talents to South Beach

Getting as far as possible away from the New York snow, Jeff Hornacek and company will take on the Heat tonight.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news, the Knicks have won back-to-back games. The bad news, the Knicks have won back-to-back games. It really sucks that such a positive results in a negative in the grand scheme of things, but that’s the tank life I guess.

The Knicks had little to no chance of losing Monday night thanks to the Bulls leaving Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen in Chicago. The win placed the Knicks back at the ninth slot in the lottery rankings. The one positive is eight of their remaining eleven games will be against playoff teams, starting with the Heat tonight.

Just like the Knicks, the Heat come in winners of their last two. On Monday, they won a 149-141 track meet against Nikola “Top 10” Jokic and the Nuggets at home. The game prior to that, they squeaked out a win against the rising Lakers. Playoff positioning is everything for the Heat right now. Lottery positioning is everything for the Knicks right now. It doesn’t take a genius to realize a Heat win is best for both parties.

Having said all that, there is still some stuff to watch out for. Let’s break it down.


Heat Check Hardaway

One of the more encouraging developments of this late season has been the resurgence of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s offense. He’s had an up-and-down season to say the least, but it appears that he has found his consistency. He was solid yet again on Monday, leading the team in scoring with 22 points.

Over his last 13 games, he’s put up 21.7 points per game. Those are the type of numbers the team can live with as a second scorer. Even more encouraging is that he is not on some insane hot streak. He’s shot the ball marginally better, but not at an unsustainable rate. Hardaway is a big piece to the rebuild puzzle, so if he found his footing during this last leg of the season, that is a major win.

Soft Spot

One cause for concern from Monday night was the interior defense. The message was clear on how to score–attack Enes Kanter. Coming out of halftime, the Bulls went after the Knicks’ starting center early and often:

If Cristiano Felicio was able to have a remarkable impact, one can only wonder what a talented big can do with no rim protection around Kanter. Hassan Whiteside will be out for tonight’s game, but rookie Bam Adebayo has the potential to be a pest if given the touches.

Frankie Blossoms

Yet another encouraging performance for Frank Ntilikina. He was able to stuff the stat sheet (eight points, five assists, three rebounds, and one steal) in 24 minutes of action. The main source of encouragement came with his aggressiveness with the ball. This was one of the sequences of the night that you hope to see a lot more of next season:

Early in the season, he probably pulls the ball back out. The progress is there and as long as he receives proper minutes Frank can hit his stride as he enters the offseason.

Matchup of the Night: Goran Dragic vs. Emmanuel Mudiay

Whiteside has proven to not be the franchise cornerstone Pat Riley would have liked him to be. Part of it has to do with health; the other has to do with desire. Whatever the reason, Whiteside is not the straw that stirs the Heat. That player is Goran Dragic. He’s the Heat’s leading scorer this season and the catalyst for their offense.

Mudiay has had his troubles scoring, but his intensity of defense has been there. Tonight, he has the opportunity to take on an All-Star guard who can embarrass him if he’s not ready to play. While guys like Frank and Timmy are simply looking to improve for next season, Mudiay has to treat every game like it is an audition.

If he will never turn into the scoring guard he wants to be, a defensive-minded guard is not a bad alternative. His size alone can irritate Dragic. If Mudiay can lock down Dragic, the Heat offense could stall and this game could turn into a rock fight. A strong defensive performance could go a long way to improve his standing with the organization as he closes on the final year of his contract in 2018-19.

Tip at 7:30 P.M. from American Airlines Arena.

Staff Writer, The Knicks Wall • Ahead of the Spread • Hardwood & Hollywood • Heat Check Podcast

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