If there wasn’t some drama hog who lived in Orlando, this season’s headlines would have focused squarely on the tumultuous, and miraculous, year that the Knicks have had. They signed Tyson Chandler, they have been good, then bad, then terrible, then Linsanity struck, then Mike D’Antoni stepped down as the head coach before he could be fired, then Mike Woodson took over as head coach, then they signed J.R. Smith, then Jeremy Lin got hurt, then Carmelo Anthony played is ass off (he still is), then Amare Stoudemire came back from injury and that brings us to the present. Phew!
Now, the Knicks enter the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and are playing some of their best ball of the season thanks in large part to Anthony’s incredible play over the last couple of weeks. With the injury to Stoudemire, Anthony shifted to power forward and has excelled. His shooting range has drawn larger defenders away from the paint, freeing up passing and cutting lanes. When he has a smaller defender on him he has the ability to post them up or shoot over them. On the defensive end of the floor he is actually trying, and not just sort of trying, trying as hard as he can fronting larger players, swiping at the ball and hounding players of comparable size. This is a Melo we have never seen. This is the Melo that the Knicks traded half of their roster for.
Yes, the Knicks are back in a big way, so much so that Steve Novak celebrating with his discount double check move does not seem ludicrous. This is a team, that despite their myriad of injuries has persevered and one courageous storyline has superseded the previous one has it fell by the wayside. These Knicks just won’t die. Now they will face their next daunting challenge, only this one does not come from within the organization.
The Miami Heat are title favorites. They lost in the Finals last season and still carry that burden and bitter taste with them. Yet, they enter the postseason seeming uninterested. Miami sleepwalked through the second half of the season, resting various parts of their big three. During that span they rarely beat a team with a record over .500. It was as if they were just biding their time, knowing that they were assured of a playoff berth.
Despite their lackadaisical attitude after they All Star break, the Heat enter the playoffs as a second seed and are still one of the most feared teams in all of basketball because of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. They have some tertiary players as well, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem lead that bunch, but when it comes to the Heat, it is about their big three. It will be curious to see if they do have that switch that they can turn on to return to their demonstrative, Flying Death Machine form. They act as though they are about to flip that switch, but is it that easy?
Miami will challenge the Knicks’ defense at the rim, namely Chandler, with their athleticism and slashing. It will behoove them to get Chandler into foul trouble early because not only is he the anchor of New York’s defense, but he is also a superb rebounder and the Heat are terribly undersized. If Chandler does get onto early foul trouble often it will allow Miami to open up their spacing on the offensive end where they can effectively use Bosh in the high post and elbow to set screens and pick and roll or pop opportunities.
Frankly, Chandler will be in foul trouble, that’s just what he does. However, the Knicks work better with a smaller lineup. It allows them to get their 3-point shooter on the floor creating isolation situations for Anthony and Stoudemire. If a double comes, they can kick the ball out and their teammates can swing it around the perimeter for an open look. There will be several moments during this series where Novak is left open, though he should never be, and he will drain an important three.
As much as they would like to, the Knicks’ starters do not match up well with those of the Heat. Their bench will be the key to keeping the games close. Miami’s ball movement stagnates when their bench is on the floor which is why Erick Spolstra likes to keep one or two of his stars on the floor with his bench unit. The bench is the advantage for the Knicks, however it would be disastrous to rely on them for significant periods of time against the fourth best defense in the NBA.
It may take a game or two, depending on Wade’s injured finger, but the Flying Death Machine should return to form and terrorize the league once more. New York will try and run but the Heat, despite their sixteenth rank pace of 91.2 are some of the best in the open floor.
It was fun, New York.
Doyle Rader predicts: Heat defeat the Knicks 4-1
Travis Huse predicts: Heat defeat the Knicks 4-2