On the season, the Knicks have a 3-1 record against Miami, and are the only team in the entire league that has beaten them more than two times. Their plus-46 point differential over the four meetings is also the highest of any team against the Heat this season.
Put simply, despite the overall weakness of the conference, this is a team that has the potential to stun the Heat. They may not be better, but due to matchups and their style of play, they can pose big problems for Miami if they earn the opportunity.
At their best—when the ball is moving and Carmelo Anthony is playing dominant basketball—the Knicks' offense is formidable, to the point where even the Heat's defense will struggle to contain it.
There are so many shooters on the team that need to be accounted for, and as evidenced by their breaking of the NBA record for three-pointers in a season, focusing on outside shooting has worked well.
This has been particularly evident in games against the Heat. They average 15 made three-pointers against Miami, and have scored them at a high-percentage. In their one loss, they made only eight three-pointers, so getting hot from outside is obviously a major factor.
Generally speaking, winning games based on three-pointers requires a bit of luck, but frankly, so does beating the Heat regardless of a team's style of play. If that's what they'll need to get the job done, then they have to stick with it.
Miami tends to up their game in the postseason, and with rotations shrinking, there's going to be more minutes for the Big Three that New York is going to have to deal with.
Still, that doesn't mean victory is impossible for the Knicks. They move the ball well, and with Raymond Felton penetrating, Melo drawing double-teams and Tyson Chandler working in the pick-and-roll, they are going to create three-point opportunities.
The real key for the Knicks is to supplement their offense with solid defense. A lot of this will come down to the health of their frontcourt. They will need Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and at least one more big (possibly new signing James Singleton) to have any chance of winning.
Besides the Knicks, the teams that have given the Heat headaches this season have been the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. Their physical style of play has done the trick, and the Knicks will need to emulate this through Chandler and Martin.
What separates the Knicks from those two teams, however, is their offense. They can score big on the Heat's defense, and that's a huge X-factor. The Bulls and Pacers can win games against the Heat, but they can't beat them in a series due to a lack of firepower.
Another interesting factor is that New York is very similar to the Dallas Mavericks team that defeated Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals. They, too, were underdogs, but they got hot offensively and found a defensive system that could slow down the Heat.
At the heart of that defense was Tyson Chandler—now a Knick, of course—who directly attacks Miami's lack of a traditional center in the starting lineup. This hurts them on both ends of the floor, with his height helping him defend the rim and find easy looks in the pick-and-roll.
The pairing of Chandler and Kidd have now won six of their last seven against Miami, which is not something that should be dismissed. Melo is their Dirk Nowitzki, and J.R. Smith off the bench has emerged as an alternative to Jason Terry.
It's almost the exact same idea. They attack the Heat with an elite scorer at power forward, height at center, an energetic option off the bench and a bunch of shooters or defensive specialists surrounding them.
A big game-changer for the Knicks is going to be the play of Iman Shumpert. They will without a doubt need his defense on Dwyane Wade, but if he can continue to shoot the corner three well on top of that, the offense will really open up.
Miami is definitely the superior team, but New York can make things interesting. They will be the underdogs, and that could work in their favour. Frankly, just advancing that far in the playoffs will be a huge victory for them compared to the last decade.
What New York should be most worried about is getting there in the first place. They are the second-best team in the conference, but just like they match up well with Miami, the teams they'll face in the first and second rounds match up well against them.
Chicago, Indiana and the Boston Celtics can't be considered better than the Knicks, but by playing physically they can still beat them in a series. The Bulls, in particular, are a team the Knicks should want to avoid, having just completed a sweep of the season series.
The Eastern Conference playoffs are supposed to be a foregone conclusion, but there are definitely some interesting series to watch out for. And if the Knicks can make it to the conference finals, it's not out of the question for them to oust the Heat.
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