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Schmeelk: What To Watch For As The Knicks Open Their Season Against The Heat

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
» More Columns

The basketball Gods, also known as David Stern and Adam Silver, did not do the Knicks any favors.

Their season was supposed to start with a game that would have decided who was the best team in New York. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, now their first game will merely be a test against the NBA Champions. The NBA community and fans will naturally want to use the game as a true test of where the Knicks are.

It isn’t fair.

Without Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks are missing their second best scorer. Marcus Camby probably won’t play with his calf injury, and if he does it will only be in bit action. Ronnie Brewer’s minutes will still have to be limited. J.R. Smith is coming back from an ankle/Achilles injury. Of the healthy players tonight, only four played on last year’s team (Carmelo Anthony, Smith, Steve Novak and Tyson Chandler).

The Knicks should get better as the season goes along, and tonight they won’t be what they could become later in the season.

I’m not trying to build in excuses for an eventual loss. There’s a chance the Knicks win tonight, even if it’s small. If that happens, this game shouldn’t be considered a big deal, either. It is simply one game as part of an 82-game season. All that being said, there are some matchups and individuals that might serve as a sign of things to come.

1) I want to see how the Knicks play against one of the best defenses in the league. Can Raymond Felton run the pick-and-roll and get into the lane? Can he set up other people or score himself against the Heat? The same question goes for Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd, who will need to succeed against an ultra-athletic Heat perimeter defense despite their lack of speed and quickness. The Knicks offense can’t revert into a “stand and watch Carmelo try and score” strategy. It won’t work against a superior team like the Heat.

2) I want to see if the Knicks can do a better job slowing down LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Both players got into the lane way too easily last year against the Knicks. The Knicks have to play the pick-and-roll better and improve their individual defense. If those two players beat you with jump shots, so be it. The Knicks also need to rotate and not give open three pointers to guys like Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers.

3) Even with Stoudemire out, the Knicks should be able to do a much better job against Miami on the boards than they did last season. Chandler should be able to dominate Chris Bosh in the paint, who is a natural power forward. He needs to be able to neutralize Bosh offensively and spare some kick-out jumpers from time to time.

4) Anthony has to get back to outplaying James. Until last season, he generally won the individual matchups between the two players. If his game has truly matured, he can start doing that again.

5) The Knicks need to protect the ball better. This seems inevitable with their three new point guards, but I still want to see it. Last year, the Heat killed the Knicks by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. The Knicks need this to be an ugly, slow-it-down, grind-it-out type of game. They need to be more physical and drag the game into the muck the way Pat Riley’s Knicks did to the Bulls.

Those things mean a lot more to me than a win or a loss. Those will portend much more accurately how the Knicks will compete with the Heat and the other great teams in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks need to worry much more about playing well than they do winning. It’s about good basketball this early in the season, not wins and losses.

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And so it begins, Knicks fans! What’s your prediction for tonight’s game? Let’s hear it in the comments section below…