While Jared Jeffries is still sticking with the Bulls as the preferred first-round opponent, because of a gimpy Derrick Rose, the backup center also believes the Knicks can beat Heat. It's likely the Knicks, currently the seventh seed, will play either team in the opening round of the playoffs, starting April 28.
"If we keep shooting the ball the way we are, then definitely we're one of the top teams," Jeffries said Friday afternoon on ESPN New York 1050's "Ruocco & Lundberg" show. "I think against Miami's defense, I think you have to have a team that can shoot the ball very well. The way we're shooting the ball right now from outside, I think it'll be hard for a team like Miami to show on pick-and-rolls and rotate early to get to our shooters. So I think we're definitely one of the teams that they would be concerned about."
Even though the Knicks are a lock for the postseason, they're still looking to climb in the standings and overtake the Magic at the sixth spot. The Knicks (33-29) and Magic (36-26) both have four games remaining. If the Knicks go 4-0 and the Magic go 1-3, finishing with the same 37-29 record, the Knicks will bump the Magic down because they own the tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchups this season (2-1). That's what's on the minds of the Knicks players, especially with Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard out for the season with a herniated disk.
"That's definitely what we're talking about," Jeffries said. "We've talked about that for a long time. Our first goal was to win our division and then now with the way things have worked out, if we can win out our last four games, you never know what might happen. Orlando could drop a couple games and we can end up getting the sixth seed, and that would be amazing."
The Knicks will have a better chance to do that with the return of Amare Stoudemire Friday night in Cleveland. Jeffries has been impressed with how Stoudemire, who will start and play around 20 minutes against the Cavaliers, has looked like his usual self, jumping and dunking with power.
"From what I've seen in his workouts and stuff that he's done, he looks good," he said. "He looks really healthy, he looks explosive and I'm excited for it. I think having our whole team together and having all the pieces we need in place, I think that we can make a good run."
Regarding Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony's play together, which some people have doubts about it, Jeffries wasn't concerned.
"We understand the balance of our team," he said. "Melo's been playing unbelievable and we know we're going to go through him and he's going to the main guy, the main catalyst of our offense. And Amare's a great player. Anytime you have a great player, they're going to fill in and find a way to be good. Amare was the same way with Steve Nash in Phoenix."
Jeffries also said the opportunity for the team to build a rhythm with Stoudemire over the next several games before the playoffs start is significant. He compared that to the Bulls not having Rose, which could obviously affect them looking ahead.
"The worst thing you can do is go into the playoffs with an off rhythm," Jeffries said.
As for himself, Jeffries said he's regaining strength in his right knee, which has bothered him for much of the season. He said he'll be good to go come playoff time, and wasn't bothered by the Knicks adding big man Dan Gadzuric, who is expected to be eligible for the playoffs.
"It's actually OK right now," Jeffries said, referring to his knee. "I'm trying to get strength and make sure that I'll be ready for the whole playoff run. I don't want to have this situation in the playoffs where I can play and I'm not 100 percent. I think bringing in [Dan] is a good thing because anytime you can have big bodies in the playoffs is a good thing.
"I'll be out there. It's always been a dream of mine to be with a Knicks team wire to wire that goes to the playoffs and does well. I think that we have the right opportunity this year because of the guys we have on the team. A lot of guys took smaller checks to come here and be a part of the situation here in New York. So I think that it would be foolish on our part not to give our all and give everything we have to be a part of it."
One player who may not be a part of it is Jeremy Lin, who's timetable hasn't changed. He could still make an appearance if the Knicks reach the semifinals.
"I think so. I think if we can make a large enough run, I wouldn't see why not," Jeffries said. "He's working very hard. I mean, he wants to come back. He's a great kid and puts a lot of time and effort working with our trainers two times a day, icing, doing all the right things. So I know if he can get back out there -- I know he wants to get back out there -- he will."
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