By John Schmeelk
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Tonight’s game against the Heat is obviously a must-win if the Knicks want any chance of winning this series, as slim as it might be.
It’s also important symbolically.
The consecutive playoff losses over a 10-year span is overblown, since this group has very little to do with the team that got swept by the Nets in 2004 or lost to the Raptors in 2001. Heck, other than Carmelo Anthony, Landry Fields and Jared Jeffries, there isn’t anyone that played against the Celtics last year either. But it is important for this group to show that their run under Mike Woodson and the last month of the season was no fluke. They need to show the Garden crowd that there is a reason to believe moving forward to next season, and that this Carmelo Anthony-led team has hope.
Of course, they have to do it without Amar’e Stoudemire. But this team won plenty of games without him in April, and in many ways his absence is not as costly as the loss of Iman Shumpert. Offensively the team will not be as good, and either Steve Novak or JR Smith is going to have to make up for the 15-20 points that Stoudemire would have likely put up. But defensively, the Knicks are certainly a better team without Stoudemire, assuming Jared Jeffries’ knee allows him to play major minutes. Josh Harrellson is an upgrade on that end of the floor as well, but the Knicks will have to adjust without their power forward.
Here’s what the Knicks need to do to win Game 3:
The Starting Lineup: Especially with Chris Bosh likely not playing tonight, the Knicks’ decisions of who to start will be much easier. Steve Novak will be able to slide in nicely at the forward position, and he can guard Shane Battier (who is likely to start for Bosh) without giving the Knicks an obvious weakness on the defensive end. Novak should help spread the floor, giving Carmelo more room in isolation and for whomever the Knicks have running the pick-and-roll. JR Smith is a possibility, but I prefer his scoring to come off the bench.
On Offense: With Stoudemire out, the Knicks need to get scoring from guys like Steve Novak, Landry Fields, Tyson Chandler and even Mike Bibby. Carmelo Anthony cannot do it alone, even if he puts up 40. The only way those guys get points is if the ball moves on offense. In Game 2, some of the Knicks’ best moments on offense came off of the pick-and-roll. Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire got tons of good looks at the basket, taking advantage of the Heat aggressively trapping the Knicks’ perimeter players. With Novak out there spreading the floor more, the Heat will have to make a decision on how to play defense, and the Knicks should be able to take advantage of whatever they choose. Those plays will either turn into Chandler runs to the basket, open threes or opportunities for the Knicks handling the basketball.
Likewise, when Carmelo Anthony does get the ball in isolation, he needs to be willing to pass out of double-teams and make fast decisions. If he can get his teammates going early, it will make things easy for him later on, since the Heat will be more hesitant to send multiple help-defenders to slow him down. He can’t try and play hero-ball like he did in Game 2. Same for JR Smith, who needs to score for the Knicks to win, but he’s a good passer and needs to facilitate ball movement to make the Heat work on defense.
On Defense: This has been the team’s real downfall in this playoff series. All the progress that the Knicks made at the end of the season almost disappeared in the first two games against the Heat. Now, a lot of it has to do with the absence of Iman Shumpert, the team’s best perimeter defender. Dwyane Wade eviscerated Landry Fields in Game 2. But the Knicks need to get better in their help-defense and not give up so many open threes to the Miami role players.
I would like to see Mike Woodson employ a zone, something Tyson Chandler and the Mavericks employed so effectively last year against the Heat in the NBA Finals. It will keep LeBron James and Wade out of the paint, and force them to run a real ball-movement half-court offense, something they aren’t great at. The Knicks need to play better defense, first and foremost, if they want any chance of making this a series.
The Bottom Line: If the Knicks play like they did for the month of April they can beat the Heat tonight, and win again on Sunday. Remember that the Heat have been mediocre on the road this year, finishing with an 18-15 record. They can be beat. This is on the players and Mike Woodson to make it happen. Otherwise they will hear only one thing in the city until the season starts again next November: “Same old Knicks.”
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How many games, if any, do you think the Knicks will take from the Heat at the Garden? Offer your thoughts and comments below…