Heat vs. Knicks: A rivalry renewed
Containing the Knicks' pick-and-roll game
Pop Quiz: Name the only team in the league operating a more efficient pick-and-roll attack than the Miami Heat?
It took some time for Raymond Felton to find his footing as the conductor of the Knicks' offense, but the numbers don't lie -- the Knicks have been devastating. And why not? They have all the essential ingredients you could want for an effective pick-and-roll game. Amare Stoudemire continues to be the most lethal roll man in the league, virtually unstoppable on drags, popping out to 17 feet, or even coming off the screen and setting a pin-down for one of the Knicks' perimeter threats. As if defending Stoudemire in a screen-roll isn't imposing enough, the Knicks spread the floor with capable shooters such as Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, whom Felton can hit with a kickout when the defense invariably turns its attention to Stoudemire. Run under the high screen and Felton is no slouch as a long-range sniper at 37 percent from beyond the arc. Like every Knicks' opponent, the Heat will have a series of tough choices to make. Do they want Stoudemire's defender to pressure Felton off the pick-and-roll? If so, then the Heat's other big man better be ready to stand in front of the freight train as Stoudemire dives to the hoop. James might be one of the best help defenders in the NBA in these situations, but if he's going to leave Gallinari all alone on the arc, somebody in a Heat jersey better be prepared to rotate over, or else Felton makes an easy skip pass for an uncontested 3. Cheat off Chandler and he can make you pay as both a shooter or a slasher (he's finishing at the rim at a 81.6 percent clip). Fortunately for the Heat, they have both speed and intuition -- and they'll need a healthy dose of both on Friday night to contain the Knicks.
For Heat, don't make it a jump-shooting contest
Who guards LeBron?
The Heat's Big 3 pose match-up problems for most opponents, but the Knicks in particular have some tough decisions in front of them. Last season, the Knicks threw several different looks at LeBron James. They tried Larry Hughes, they sent Jared Jeffries, and when James dropped 47 points against the Knicks in Cleveland, it was Wilson Chandler who got torched by James. But at 6-8, Chandler probably won't get the assignment now that he has started at the four over the past nine games with Stoudemire sliding to the 5 and Gallinari picking up the opposing small forwards. Is Gallinari up to the task? He certainly has the height to match up with James, but his length and slow footwork should have James looking to drive every time -- precisely what the Knicks don't want on Friday night. Gallinari's best bet is to give James some space and lure the long mid-range jumper. If he plays too close, look for James to consistently tie up the Italian's feet off the dribble as opposed to shooting over him.
Pressure Knicks' defense with early post-ups
All season long, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has preached the virtues of the early post-up for his superstars, and Madison Square Garden offers the perfect laboratory for that practice. The Knicks' miss 15 3-pointers and turn the ball over 15 times per game. That should give the Heat ample opportunity to push the ball in transition. But even when long misses or easy buckets in the open floor don't present themselves, the Heat should take advantage of secondary break opportunities by having James and Wade (and Bosh) set up on the block for quick feeds. Only Denver has given up more field goals on post-up plays than the Knicks this season. Knicks' opponents often find favorable mismatches when they get the Knicks backpedaling. These early post-ups are easy points for the taking and also provide the Heat with a convenient antidote against lazy pull-up jumpers, something they want to avoid against the Knicks.
Amare vs. Z: Something's got to give
Tonight's match-up will showcase a battle of lineup game theory between head coaches D'Antoni and Spoelstra. Does Spoelstra adjust to the speed of D'Antoni's small lineup or will D'Antoni be forced to clog up the lane with a big body to stop Wade and James' basket attack? Who will break first? If Udonis Haslem were healthy, we may have seen the Heat push Bosh at the 5 to counter the Knicks athleticism up front. But as is, Stoudemire's explosive quickness in the post should test Spoelstra's insistence in keeping starter Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the floor to spread the floor and pair up James with a pick-and-pop option. At this stage, Big Z's feet move at a glacial pace and his only answer for Stoudemire will be to smother him with his long arms. Unfortunately, the Lithuanian's fading dexterity doesn't allow him to alter shots like he used to and he's been hampered by foul trouble recently. We'll probably see less of the lumbering Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier against Stoudemire, and more playing time for Joel Anthony, who blocked a season-high five shots against the Cavaliers on Wednesday. It's possible we may not see someone over 6-foot-10 on the floor for the majority of this game.