In preparation for Sunday afternoon's game at the Garden, ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling spoke with Tom Haberstroh, who covers the Heat for ESPN.com's Heat Index, to get a read on the team. Here are his responses to three burning questions Zwerling had:
Q: What's up with the Heat lately and why have they been playing down to the best teams (the Bulls and Celtics, for example)? Erik Spoelstra stressed in the past that his guys needed to focus on finding their identity, but it appears they haven't truly figured it out yet this season.
Haberstroh: First off, every team has its hands full against the likes of the Bulls, Celtics, etc. Good teams are tough to beat. But they're also extremely well-coached. The blueprint to beat the Heat is out: move the ball and exploit their heavy defensive rotations. Teams like the Bulls and Celtics have the personnel, but most importantly, the IQ to pull it off.
Like a quarterback under pressure, the Heat are in a scramble right now literally and figuratively. They have some issues defensively that leave them vulnerable to 3-point shooters like Steve Novak. The Heat try to leverage their athleticism on the wings to create turnovers and fireworks in the open court, but when their energy is sapped, they get run over.
The Heat are at their best when they're creating turnovers and wreaking havoc defensively. In a condensed season, they're finding it harder than ever to sustain the requisite energy.
Q: LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have been playing out of the post more this season. How do you think both have done in that situation, and how do you foresee this matchup unfolding on Sunday?
Haberstroh: LeBron has been re-establishing himself on the block more recently. It's been one of his strongest weapons in his arsenal this season in the halfcourt and you can bet that he and Anthony will go at each other in the post. It will be a battle.
The key for LeBron is that he has to sometimes put the blinders on and attack the rim, rather than always passing out to shooters. In this sense, his vision is both a blessing and a curse. Anthony's one of the few players that can probably bang with him down low, but even he will struggle to stay in between LeBron and the basket.
Also, keep in mind that Anthony and LeBron should play a bit at the four, which will lead to more post-ups. With Amare Stoudemire out, it appears to have been the Knicks' most potent attack. Can Erik Spoelstra trust Chris Bosh against Tyson Chandler though?
Q: Has there been any talk from the Heat locker room about potentially playing the Knicks in the first round? If so, what's the vibe been like? Are they worried at all or do they think it's going to be a cake walk?
Haberstroh: It's not good PR to downplay the Knicks' potential matchup. With that said, I don't think the Heat genuinely feel threatened by the Knicks. They'll never admit so much to the reporters, but they honestly feel that they're the team to beat this season.
Don't think for a second that the Knicks' first-round upset in 1999 won't be on their minds if they do meet. Whether it affects their play or not is a different story, but these two teams have a bitter history together. Just ask former Heat center Alonzo Mourning.
Are the Heat worried about the Knicks? No. But they're not worried about anybody -- not after coming within arm's reach of the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season. That could be a false sense of security, though, considering how underwhelming they've looked since the All-Star break.
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