LeBron James will start at power forward for the Heat at Madison Square Garden.
LeBron playing big
LeBron James will be starting at the power forward spot against a smallish Knicks lineup featuring Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Amare Stoudemire. At Wednesday's practice, James reiterated that playing the slot isn't such a departure for him. "Even before I came [to Miami], I spent a lot of my time in the high post, in the Karl Malone area," James said. "I can play the position that [Chris Bosh] plays. He's much more efficient than myself or [Dwyane Wade] is in the low post or at the elbow, but I'm picking up where C.B. has left off. We need that post presence for our shooters to get open." That last part is the key. With some combination of Wade, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and James Jones spread out along the perimeter, James can use that perch in either the high or low post to facilitate an inside-out offense. He'll certainly have the opportunity to take his defender one-on-one, but by drawing the defense to him inside, James can also find those shooters with kickout passes. The Knicks' style and Miller's emerging confidence could make James a lethal playmaker.
Block the line
Following his team’s 104-89 victory over the Knicks last week, Houston general manager Daryl Morey took to his Twitter account (@dmorey) to hail his coaches’ blueprint to stop the Knicks: “Coaching staff w/great game plan against NYK. NYK spot up shooters more dangerous than Amare. No matter who is guarding Amare, avoid doubling.” It may seem painfully obvious, but the Knicks aren’t nearly as threatening if you neutralize their 3-point arsenal, even if it means letting Stoudemire go off. Unfortunately for the Knicks, locking down the arc is Miami’s strength as the Heat pride themselves on strong rotational work and lightning-fast close-outs. The Heat have successfully defended the 3-point line in the first two meetings against New York -- the Knicks have shot just 15-for-48 from downtown -- by following the Morey script and limiting open set shots. Keep a close eye on how the Knicks attack the slow-footed Juwan Howard on the perimeter, the Heat’s only healthy power forward on the roster.
Joel Anthony vs. Amare Stoudemire
Really? Sounds like an absurd mismatch! That might be the case at first blush, except that Anthony has matched up with Stoudemire effectively on the defensive side of the floor. The last time these teams hooked up at Madison Square Garden, Stoudemire managed only six points on 3-for-12 shooing from the field when Anthony was his primary defender. During the rematch in Miami, Stoudemire converted 4-of-12 against Anthony and drew a couple of fouls. Anthony has very quick feet and was very proactive in isolation situations, anticipating Stoudemire's right-handed drives before the first dribble hit the floor. When Stoudemire put Anthony in pick-and-roll situations, Anthony dropped back immediately, walling off the paint. Credit the rest of the Heat's defense, as well. When Anthony needed help, a baseline rotator arrived in time and ready to contest. Anthony won't start Thursday night, but given his success against Stoudemire, expect starter's minutes.
Miller Time in MSG?
In their third matchup of the season against the Knicks, the Heat lose Bosh but gain Miller. James knows he’s a big addition. “When we go to New York,” James said Saturday, “they'll have Mike Miller on the scouting report." Coming off an incredible 32-point breakout performance Saturday, the 6-foot-8 wingman will look to carry his momentum into Thursday’s game after a four-day layoff. What should the Knicks have on the scouting report? Move the ball and attack him on offense. Much has been made about Bosh adjusting to Miami’s demanding defensive schemes, but Miller has been slow on rotations and often looks out of sync with his teammates. Miller has stuck to the big man too long on rotations, leaving the weak-side perimeter open for skip passes. Look for the Knicks to challenge the Florida product by planting Stoudemire nearby and utilizing crisp ball movement.
Making it a board game
The average NBA team collects 26 percent of the available offensive rebounds in a game. How many times have opponents beaten that standard against the Knicks over the past 15 games? All but two. Not coincidentally, the Knicks are 6-9 over that span. By design, the Heat don’t recover a ton of their missed shots, preferring to retreat on defense to discourage the fast break -- but not in the Dec. 28 game against the Knicks. The Heat jumped to a big lead early thanks to Zydrunas Ilgauskas using his 7-foot-3 frame to get tip-in after tip-in on the Knicks' frontline. Bottom line, he’s really tall and the Knicks couldn’t really compete with his length with Stoudemire guarding him. However, the Knicks could choose to deploy Ronny Turiaf more this time around to push Ilgauskas away from the rim. Watch the chess game between the coaches. Do the Heat want to send Ilgauskas out there to stand tall or do they throw in Anthony to get out and run? If they want to win the board game, Big Z is the answer.