Shumpert playing, Fields to guard LeBron

NEW YORK -- Mike Woodson said he considers the Miami Heat one of the top teams in the league and called Sunday’s game, “a big test” for his ball club.

“I’m anxious to see how we step out and compete against this team,” Woodson said. “It could be a team we face in the first round of the playoffs.”

The most interesting test for the Knicks is how the team matches defensively with the Heat. The coach confirmed that Iman Shumpert, New York’s best on-the-ball defender, will be in the starting lineup. The rookie guard sprained his right ankle in the third quarter against the Washington on Friday.

Woodson said after practice Saturday that he hadn’t decided on defensive assignments yet, but revealed before the game that Shumpert will be charged with limiting Dwyane Wade.

Many might have anticipated a matchup between Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but Woodson decided to use Anthony’s size on guard Chris Bosh. Landry Fields will start the game on James, who is averaging 25.5 points in two games against New York this season.

“It’ll be an interesting game to see where we are,” Woodson said.

The coach said he hasn’t been closely monitoring Miami this season. The Heat have lost three of their past five games, including an overtime loss to Chicago on Thursday, in which they were outscored 12-2 in the extra period with Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the bench.

The Heat are facing a much different team than the one they crushed, 102-88, in Miami on Feb. 23. The Knicks have transformed into one of the better defensive teams in the league. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra compared the teams in terms of how they both pressure the basketball.

“They’re playing with an incredible amount of activity and deposition,” Spoelstra said.

Shumpert has garnered much of the credit for his pressure on the perimeter. Shumpert will also play an important role in terms of handling the the ball himself. Baron Davis is coming off of his best game of the season, scoring 18 points against the Wizards on Friday, but has been slowed by injuries to his back, hamstring and neck.

When Davis goes to the bench, Shumpert’s ball-handling duties have increased since Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby haven't been able to handle the offense for extended stretches. Miami will look blitz New York in the backcourt.

“We know the areas where we can start to be aggressive,” Spoelstra said.

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