The 2003 NBA Draft stands out as one of the top classes in league history. To this day, the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and to a lesser extent, David West, continue to shine.
Then there are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The two have always been close friends, but as long as James resides in South Beach, Anthony and his New York Knicks won’t be seeing an NBA Championship.
Much like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, they were just a notch better than everyone else. Jordan, who is widely regarded as the best basketball player of all time, also had a brilliant supporting class highlighted by Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
Similar to Jordan, James has Wade and Bosh by his side–two All-Stars in their prime.
One of Jordan’s greatest rivals were the Knicks, led by Patrick Ewing. His teams were tough, gritty and played with emotion. The team took on a blue-collar mentality and had all the right ingredients to win a title (or multiple titles).
But no matter how well the Knicks played, Jordan always stood in front of them. In five playoff matchups, the Bulls eliminated the Knicks four times. For Ewing, it was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That is where we find ourselves today with James and Anthony facing off as rivals. When the two went head-to-head last year in the regular and postseason, the Knicks went just 1-6. However, the Knicks have gone 2-1 this year against Miami with each win coming by a margin of 20 points. New York played well in the first half this past Sunday, but lost by six.
While the Heat can look unbeatable at times, they are not invincible. Even though we’re still in the regular season, Miami stands at 2-5 when matching up against their conference foes in the Knicks, Bulls and Indiana Pacers. Those three teams can give the Heat trouble in a series. They have the size and physicality to push Miami around.
More specifically, the Knicks have Anthony, Tyson Chandler and now Amar’e Stoudemire to attack the paint. But in both of New York’s wins over the Heat, the Knicks shot a combined 46.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. That incredible shooting display will be almost impossible to duplicate if the two teams meet in the playoffs.
It’s not to say that the Knicks, or teams battling against the Heat are poorly constructed, but rather, they’re stuck having to compete against a once-in-a-generation player in James.
Had the Heat not formed their version of the “Big Three” nearly three years ago, a case could be made that the Knicks are the best team in the Eastern Conference. With Anthony at the helm, New York can score at will, and at times, they have shown that they can play sound defense. But due to Miami’s stacked talent, everyone else in the league falls a step below them.
At 28-years old, the world is witnessing James at his peak. He’s an extremely gifted player with virtually no weakness. Since losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, he has developed his overall game. He can now post up, hit the 3-point shot more consistently and lock down the opponent’s best scorer when needed.
On a per-36 minute basis in clutch situations (a game with less than five minutes remaining and neither team is ahead by more than five points), James averages 27.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 11.6 assists. His triple-double shows that while he may not always look for his own shot, he’ll make the right pass or grab a crucial board to spark a late run. His diversity is what makes him unique.
Unfortunately for Anthony, he could be trapped in a parallel world that plagued Ewing. Both players are elite in their own way, but there was always that one team, and one player who had their number.
Right now, the league is at James’ mercy.
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