GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For a case study on NBA defensive preparation, effort and consistency focused on individuals, look no further than what the Heat has done to Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak -- the two players on the Knicks who can catch fire the fastest.
While Anthony went for 30 points in Game 2, the Heat has made him work for every catch, move and shot, and in the series he's shooting only 22-for-64 (34.4 percent).
"I've seen it all this series. Two guys, three guys," Melo said after Saturday morning's practice at the Knicks' training facility. "I'm just missing. I don't really think they're doing anything to make me miss the shots. They're just making it tough on my catches, fronting me, sending two or three guys out there, crowding me. But the same shots I've been making are just not going in right now. Hopefully tomorrow they go in. Tomorrow's a new day."
As for Novak, he's only averaging one made 3-pointer in two attempts per game in the series (3-for-6; 50 percent), whereas from Feb. 6 to the end of the regular season, he was averaging nearly three makes in around six attempts per game (47.5 percent). Interestingly, the Heat were one of the worst teams at defending the three in the regular season, but it's been a different story in the playoffs. From Pat Riley at the top to LeBron James on the court, the Heat are on a mission to win the championship, starting with D.
"They're just not leaving [Steve]," Mike Woodson said. "We've got to try to figure out how to find shots for him. They're really making the rotations very nicely to get to him in our pick-and roll-basketball. It hasn't been easy for Novak to free up.
"We've got to figure out something because he's been a big part of our offense, coming off the bench making shots. I'm going to probably bring him off the bench for sure [in Game 4], put him back in his comfort zone and see if we can find him some shots, and he knocks them in."
Tyson Chandler added some more detail about how the Heat have been so dominant on defense, especially closing out on shooters like Novak. He said the Heat's D has looked the same from last year's NBA finals, when Chandler's Mavericks upset them in six games.
"They stick to their same principles," the Defensive Player of the Year said. "They trap hard on the ball, they rotate a lot of times to the corners [where Novak likes to set up]. I just don't think we've done a very good job of finding our open guys."
Down 3-0 is a little late to do your homework, but Woodson, Novak and the team should watch how the Celtics have gotten Ray Allen open through the past five years. While Novak is active running from baseline to baseline like the All-Star sharpshooter, the Knicks need to do a better job of setting harder screens for him, even double ones, to free him up -- even if it's just a slither of room.
That's because Novak's release is as fast as a bullet, so his teammates need to know where he is at all times -- just like the Heat's D does -- and even predict when he's about to be open, so they can get him the ball more quickly before the Heat has time to jump out on him. So far, the Heat have completely smothered Novak.
"There's no doubt," he said. "When I'm on the court, I hear all five guys yelling my name, which is strange. If I like make a quick move from the right side of the court to the left side, it's like they're all just yelling. So I know that it's obviously a point of emphasis."
The Knicks especially need to utilize the skip pass more, which is James' clever way of throwing off opponents and creating easier scoring opportunities for his teammates. The move has the ability to make defenders behind schedule and then they're forced to rotate out of position, looking as if they're chasing someone down but will never catch them.
"I thought we missed [Steve] a lot in Game Three," Woodson said.
"You have to tip your hat off to Miami," Anthony said. "They scout, they prepare, they know Novak is a shooter and try not to give him any space. They're doing a great job at that. It's up to us to find opportunities for Novak when they present themselves."
The bigger issue for the Knicks offensively, which relates to Novak's disappearance, is that they've been glued to the perimeter too much, launching outside (and usually forced) shots. When Jeremy Lin was starting at point, the team had someone who could put pressure on defenders and suck them into the paint with the dribble-drive, allowing for easier looks from midrange and 3-point territory.
While Baron Davis is capable, he's not fully healthy to be that guy for an entire game. That means J.R. Smith is the team's best option running the pick-and-roll. He just needs to be a more willing passer. That goes for Anthony as well. In fact, after Game 3's loss Thursday night, Smith said he needed to do a better job of finding his teammates, including Novak.
After today's practice, Woodson said he wasn't sure if he'd keep Novak at the three or call up Smith, but he was leaning towards Smith for that extra scoring spark. Woodson was concerned with the team's poor start in Game 3, going down 17-8 towards the end of the first quarter, and Smith provides more versatile offense (outside and inside) than Novak. Smith's athleticism out of the backcourt can also speed up the Knicks' offense, and Woodson has pointed to change of pace lacking recently.
In addition to setting up his teammates, Smith also needs to get the foul line more. He tends to rely on his trademark stepback move when he drives, which does create space, but he doesn't always look to go all the way to the basket. He sometimes doesn't make the most of his explosiveness. But the Knicks will need all of Smith, especially if he starts, to help Anthony ignite a great first quarter and go from there.
"We got off to such a bad start [in Game 3] and we were able to counter the bad start with some substitutions," Woodson said. "We got back in the game and were able to take the lead. There’s a chance J.R. could start, so we could have some kind of offensive firepower. I have to make that decision based on Amare [Stoudemire]."
While the Knicks held the Heat to 58 points through three quarters, they allowed them to score 29 in the final period. Not only does their defense need to shore up their lapses down the stretch -- the Heat have outscored the Knicks in the fourth quarter this series, 74-59 -- their offense needs to get it together for 48 minutes.
"We know we can rely on our defense because it's been great throughout the year," Chandler said. "But we've got to turn things up offensively. We've got to find a way to score more points."
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