Every weekday morning throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: Do you expect LeBron James to guard Carmelo Anthony more in Game 5, especially in the fourth quarter?
During a media conference call Monday morning, Mike Woodson said he was not surprised that Shane Battier was matched up with Carmelo Anthony down the stretch in Game 4. In the three previous games, that was mostly LeBron James.
"Battier's a pretty damn good defender and LeBron has gotten much better defending, too," Woodson said. "They could've gone either way. I mean, I think they had the matchup that they wanted, and Melo was just unbelievable. That's all I can tell you. He took it to another level, which was fun to watch and we're going to need that and more when we go to Miami."
After Sunday's loss, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he wanted to go small, putting James on Tyson Chandler, most likely to force the Knicks to play more through Anthony by cutting off the center's ability to catch passes inside and hurt the Heat on the offensive glass. Overall, Spoelstra said his decision to put Battier on Melo had nothing to do with the outcome.
"We still had enough opportunities to win this game regardless of who was guarding Anthony," he said. "He made some big shots and [Mike] Bibby made a big shot and [J.R.] Smith made a couple of big shots. So we have to regroup. You have to give them credit. We'll get back at this for Wednesday."
While both coaches gave Battier credit for his defense, the numbers don't lie. Anthony has been shooting around 50 percent against Battier in the series, but around 30 percent against James. The advantage James has is his 6-8, 265-pound size against Melo, who's 6-8, 230. There aren't many players in the NBA who can match up physically and athletically with the Knicks' star, but James can.
James, as Woodson mentioned, has improved defensively this season -- he did come in fourth in DPOY voting (and arguably should've been higher) -- and he's done a great job making it tough for Anthony to catch the ball and drive to the basket. James has made Melo expend more energy dribbling because he's forcing him to attack in a slight U-shape, rather than a direct line off of his triple-threat position. James has forced him into more jumpshots and has limited his post-up scoring. On the flip side, Melo scored from the block consistently against Battier in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon and drew fouls to get to the line.
With the Heat's intent to not bring the series back to New York for Game 6 -- they know the already hostile Garden crowd will be much louder then and will create a more challenging atmosphere -- expect James to take on the challenge of guarding Anthony in the second half and fourth quarter Wednesday night. The emphasis on closing out the series should be enough motivation for James.
For Anthony to really make James pay is his jumpshot has to be on, which will force James to have to play up him more. Then, Melo has the quickness to drive by him. Because James moves like a crab in every direction, he hardly ever looks out of place and, therefore, hardly ever gets into foul trouble, so Melo will have to be extremely efficient in Game 5. And, again, that starts with his jumpshot, which was way off of the mark in Games 1 and 3.
Do you expect James on Melo more in Game 5, and how do you see that matchup playing out? Leave us your comments below.
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