WHAT IT MEANS: With the Knicks' win on Thursday night and the 76ers' loss to the Pistons, the Knicks earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and will play the Heat in a series that will tip off on Saturday. The Sixers will face the Bulls.
Mike Woodson was asked to size up the Heat matchup before the Bobcats game, and this is what he said: "Miami has three superstars, I call them, in [Chris] Bosh, [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron [James], and they have a nice supporting cast that has learned how to play with those guys."
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Amare Stoudemire. Remember how well Carmelo Anthony played with Stoudemire sidelined from March 26 to April 18? Well, that was Stoudemire against the Bobcats, as he finished with 21 points while Melo rested. STAT took advantage of the court being his on offense and went off, utilizing his midrange jump shot, rolls off of screens, and drives to the basket. While STAT should start when the playoffs begin on Saturday, because the Knicks will need an experienced player to match up against Bosh, he should get some burn with the second unit as well -- just like he did tonight, exposing weaker matchups. Even though the opponent was the 7-59 Bobcats, who finished the regular season with the worst winning percentage of all time, there were many positives to take away from Stoudemire's performance.
THE GOOD: J.R. Smith. And you can sense Woodson has a lot to do with how the young gun plays. They have like a father-son type relationship. Woodson always seems to be on top of Smith, more than the other guys -- and that's because Smith is such a talented player, but he likes to play his own game sometimes and loses sight of the team's approach.
When Smith makes a mistake, Woodson always stares him down a bit more. But that care and attention Woodson has given to Smith is key, because the combo guard will play a big part in what the Knicks are going to do in the playoffs. That extra push also gets Smith to play harder on defense (he had three steals tonight, one of which led to a fast-break dunk in the second quarter). Woodson keeps saying that he believes in Smith and wants him to do well in New York. At the half, Smith had 15 points in only 18 minutes. The demanding yet nurturing way Woodson handles Smith does, in the end, usually pay off. Smith finished with 22 points.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME: With 2:32 remaining in the third quarter, Stoudemire slipped off of a screen he set on Mike Bibby's defender and ducked into the middle of the paint. That's where Bibby connected with him via a bounce pass and Stoudemire soared up for the one-handed dunk over Bobcats power forward Tyrus Thomas. And-1! It was vintage STAT, especially from his Suns days when he ran with Steve Nash.
THE BAD: Not much from tonight, because six players didn't play. Baron Davis said before the game that his sore right hamstring is still an ongoing issue, and he'll have to play through it during the playoffs. And Jared Jeffries will be limited as well once the first round gets underway. Woodson foresees the backup center playing no more than 15 minutes per game. With Game 1 of the Knicks-Heat series starting sooner than expected on Saturday -- some thought Sunday because of the larger national audience -- the Knicks will miss another day of much-needed rest time.
WHAT'S NEXT: A rivalry renewed with the Heat. The Knicks will likely travel to Miami on Friday to get settled and get a practice in, before facing off with the No. 2 seed on Saturday. The time of the game will be determined later tonight.
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