By John Schmeelk
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I couldn’t find a better word to describe the series the Knicks and Heat are about to play in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Bulls might have given the Knicks a better chance to win, but there’s no doubt this series will be far more entertaining.
Sub-plots are everywhere. LeBron James shunned New York and chose the Heat so he could join forces with his superstar friends to win a title. Now the Knicks stand in his way. In the last lockout shortened season, the 8th seeded Knicks took out the top seeded Heat in first round of the playoffs. The year before that, there was the pathetic looking fight between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning while Jeff Van Gundy clutched the Heat center’s leg. I still almost cry when I think of PJ Brown flipping Charlie Ward and the subsequent suspensions. If only Patrick Ewing had listened to Herb Williams and stayed on the bench. Going back even further, Pat Riley informed the Knicks he was quitting via fax. The Knicks-Heat rivalry is back.
Then there’s the basketball aspect of all this. Let’s look at the matchups.
THE STARS: With the way Carmelo Anthony is playing, there will be two top five players going at it the entire series. LeBron James is without a doubt the best player in the league, but Carmelo Anthony’s skill and size will test him more individually than any player he’ll face in the postseason. Even better, matchups dictate these guys will have to guard one another the entire series. Carmelo’s defense has been good and his offense unstoppable. That’s as fun as it gets. The edge here has to go to LeBron, but only a slight one.
POWER PLAYERS: Amar’e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh both play power forward, but Stoudemire will not be guarding Bosh for most of the series. That pleasure will go to Tyson Chandler who can match Bosh physically in every way. I would expect him to chase Bosh to the perimeter and turn him into a jump shooter. Bosh has been dealing with some bumps and bruises over the past couple of weeks but I don’t expect him to be affected much in the series. Amar’e Stoudemire has only played four games since his return from a herniated disk, but he looks athletic and like his old self. Still, slight edge to the Heat until Stoudemire proves he can stay healthy.
THE KEY MATCHUP: Iman Shumpert has distinguished himself as a great man to man on the ball defender in his rookie season. He will have no greater test than Dwyane Wade. LeBron might be Miami’s best player, but Wade is their best scorer, especially at the end of games. If Shumpert can keep this matchup from being a blow out, the Knicks have a real chance of winning the series. If Wade can score consistently or get Shumpert into foul trouble, the Knicks won’t win the series. I wouldn’t worry about Wade’s finger. He should be fine. Big edge to Miami.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE: Tyson Chandler is a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the Knicks MVP this season. The Heat have a combination of Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Eddy Curry, and Dexter Pittman. Ummm… yeah. Huge edge to the Knicks.
AT THE POINT: The Knicks aren’t exactly running out stars at the position in Baron Davis and Mike Bibby. In fact, both are probably closer to collecting social security than any awards. But they should be able to hold their own against Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Chalmers is nothing more than a spot up shooter, but Cole’s athleticism could give Mike Bibby some trouble off the bench. The experience of Bibby and Davis should give the Knicks some stability. Both understand what playoff basketball is all about. That being said, the Heat like to pressure in the backcourt, and force turnovers. The Knicks guards must take care of the basketball. The Heat are impossible to stop in transition. Draw.
THE BENCH: The Heat’s greatest weakness is their lack of depth. Mike Miller and Shane Battier have not delivered and have been huge disappointments. James Jones can hit some threes, but not much else. Norris Cole is explosive but he slowed down after a scorching start to the season. The Knicks on the other hand, have found some solid bench play. In the last few weeks, good JR Smith has shown up quite consistently. He could be the real X-factor in this series. If he can get the Knicks 15 a game off the bench and shoot a decent percentage they can win the series. Steve Novak has rediscovered his shooting touch. Landry Fields has played decent off the bench, and Jared Jeffries gives great effort on defense. Even the corpse of Mike Bibby has shown some life. The Knicks have a big advantage here.
THE COACH: Both Mike Woodson and Erik Spoelstra are solid X’s and O’s guys that get their teams to play defense. The way Woodson helped turn the Knicks season around gives the Knicks a slight edge.
THE REST: It’s impossible to judge these two teams by their earlier matchups this season, since the Knicks are a completely different team at this point in the season. Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t there the only time they played when Mike Woodson was the head coach. Right now the Knicks are near equal to the Heat defensively, and are certainly the hotter team. The Knicks honestly believe they can beat the Heat, and all the pressure is in Miami. If things go bad early for Miami, the pressure will mount and I’m not sure they can handle it. Slight edge for the Knicks.
THE VERDICT: If the Knicks want to win the series they absolutely have to win one of the first two games. Obviously, Carmelo Anthony will have to shoot well, and Baron Davis and Amar’e Stoudemire both have to stay healthy. It will be a tight and highly entertaining series and the Knicks will bring the Heat to seven games. Pat Riley will have many sleepless nights. I just don’t think the Knicks can win a Game 7 in Miami. Dwyane Wade will get Iman Shumpert into foul trouble, and the rookie will learn a valuable lesson. Miami Heat in 7.
You can follow me on twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York Sports at: https://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.