LUKEWARM HEAT A BETTER MATCH FOR KNICKSBy Jared Zwerling
Out of all the playoff teams, the Heat have the highest ceiling and the most room for disappointment. This season, they've been like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Knicks have taken advantage of their amazing-to-average transformation.
Their identity change started with LeBron James. In the Knicks' 93-88 win Jan. 27, James stalled the offense and forced his shots, finishing 7-of-24 from the field with only five assists. In the Knicks' 91-86 win on Feb. 27, James missed two shots in crunch time, a credit to the defense. Fueled partly by the Knicks, the Heat are just 6-13 in games decided by five points or fewer.
There's no denying James' talents, but the Knicks feature the league's best isolation player this season in Carmelo Anthony. He's scored 615 points (39.5 field goal percentage) off ISO plays -- a key indicator of clutch playmaking. Neither James, nor Dwyane Wade, are even in the top five. Not to mention, Melo, who's been criticized for his defense, has the ability to dethrone The King. In that Feb. 27 win, Anthony was asked to guard James during the fourth quarter, and James went only 1-of-4.
The Heat's second-biggest uncertainty centers on Chris Bosh. With James and D-Wade commanding the ball, Bosh has become a mid-range shooter, and in several games this season he didn't even reach 10 points. In fact, in a Feb. 24 loss to the Bulls, Bosh did something that hadn't been done in 38 years: shoot 1-of-18. You would never see Amare Stoudemire do that.
Being that the Knicks have three stars, who all have years of postseason experience, they can expose an inconsistent Heat team that goes from playing team to individual basketball in a hurry. It helps the Knicks' cause that the Heat have a slower-paced point guard in Mike Bibby (rather than a quicker Rajon Rondo) and they're more of a perimeter-style team than the post-up, grind-out Celtics, a style the Knicks have had trouble against.
AGING, INJURED C's ARE EASIER TARGET FOR KNICKSBy Ian Begley
It's easy to look at the Knicks' regular-season records against the Heat (2-2) and the Celtics (0-3) and conclude that Miami is the better first-round opponent for New York.
But that reasoning ignores what we've seen the last few weeks with the Celtics. Boston is a team with significant injury issues on its front line. After limping through most of March, the Celtics just now seem to be getting their bearings.
So maybe, just maybe, the Knicks would be catching the aging Celtics at the right time if they faced off in the first round.
Why should the Knicks have hope? Injuries.
Shaquille O'Neal, dealing with a calf injury and Achillies tendon strain, has played just six minutes since Feb. 1. His availability for the postseason is unknown. The Celtics also have to worry about fellow big Nenad Krstic, who, due in part to a knee injury, has largely struggled since coming over from Oklahoma City with Jeff Green in the Kendrick Perkins deal.
All of which bodes well for New York and its undersized front line.
As far as the Knicks' 0-3 record against Boston this season, you can throw out anything that happened before Carmelo Anthony's arrival.
The Knicks, with Anthony in tow, held a nine-point fourth-quarter lead against Boston on March 21. But the Celtics scored the game's final 10 points that night to storm back for a win. The Knicks have improved their play in the fourth quarter -- on both ends of the floor -- in the following seven games.
As Chauncey Billups said, "With the exception of the last six minutes of the Boston game, we played them pretty well." And they can do so again.