Earlier this season, the Knicks lost to the Heat 99-89 in Miami. This not the same Knicks team. That was a Toney Douglas led Knick team with no Melo, no JR Smith and Jeremy Lin was sitting on the bench. This Knicks team is deeper, better and more confident then the team that rolled into Miami on January 27th. The Heat are rolling right now having won 10 of 11 and 7 in a row. The Knicks have obviously been immersed in Linsanity for the past few weeks and have turned their season around. This is going to be a hell of a game.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Melo vs LeBron. Carmelo Anthony always gets up to play against his friend LeBron James. Going back to High School, Anthony has always had success against James. In Anthony’s senior year, he led his Oak Hill Academy team to a state championship victory over James and St Vincent/St Marys. In the NBA, Carmelo Anthony is a career 9-4 against LeBron James. Last season, in Anthony’s 3rd game as a Knick, the Knicks defeated the Heat in Miami. Anthony scored 29 points to LeBron’s 27. In the final seconds, James missed 2 potential game winning/tying shots and the Knicks rolled out of South Beach victorious. This season, James has played better than he ever has before. He now has a post up game and is on pace to set the record in single season Player Efficiency Rating. This will be a huge test for Carmelo Anthony but I think he is up for it. For some in depth statistics about the James-Anthony saga, click here.
- The perimeter battle. The Knicks and Heat are both good defensive teams but both teams struggle to defend the 3 point shot. The Knicks are 29th in the league in opponent 3 point percentage while the Heat are 22nd. Whichever team can shoot best from the perimeter will have the best shot to win tonight. The Knicks outside shooting has the potential to be lethal but they are still wildly inconsistent. Miami does not shoot a ton of 3’s but obviously with Wade, Battier, James Jones and Mario Chalmers, they have the potential to get rolling from outside. Without Iman Shumpert, the Knicks wings will have to step up their perimeter defense and keep Miami from hitting 3’s.
- Turnovers. Both teams rank in the top 10 in stealing the ball. The Knicks rank 2nd and the Heat rank 9th. Both teams also rank in top 10 in turning the ball over. Miami is damn near unstoppable in transition. The Knicks learned this the hard way in their first matchup with Miami, as the Heat turned the game into a transition dunking contest. In order to win tonight, the Knicks have to limit turning the ball over and when they do, they have to find a way to slow down James and Wade in transition.
- JR Smith is the X-factor on both ends of the court. Everybody knows that JR Smith can get hot on any given night but Smith has been great defensively since joining the Knicks. Smith recorded 5 steals last night in the Knicks rout of the Hawks. Against Dallas, Smith showed active hands and quickness defensively when guarding Dirk Nowitzki and he did a nice job against the finals MVP. For my money, a healthy Dwayne Wade is the best player in the league. Both Landry Fields and Smith will have their hands full trying to contain the Heat superstar. Fields will play a lot but I expect Smith to log more minutes coming off the bench. Smith is long enough and athletic enough to stay with Wade. Obviously defending Dwayne Wade is far more difficult than it sounds but I think Smith can do a good job of keeping up with him.
- Jeremy Lin versus the Heat pick and roll defense. I think the Heat are going to send multiple bodies at Lin on the pick and roll. Given the length and athleticism of their defense, the Heat will try to make force Lin into turnovers so they can get out in transition. I think this style of defense is a double-edged sword. If Lin is able to find passing windows and keep his head up, there should be open Knicks on the floor. Given the potential knock down shooting of Melo, Novak and JR Smith, the Heat will be gambling by sending multiple guys at Lin. Hopefully for the Knicks, Lin will make Miami pay for their gambles and find the open man.
- For Knicks pre-game analysis, check me out on this spreecast here starting at 5 eastern time and running till about 6:30
- For Knicks post-game, I will be jumping on spreecast with Brad Wolf. Here is the link to that spreecast.