One of the greatest rivalries in NBA history comes to its regular season close tonight when the New York Knicks visit the American Airlines Arena to take on the Miami Heat. New York has already blown out the Heat twice this season, on Nov. 2 and Dec. 6, but lost the last meeting in a heartbreaker on March 3.
But the Knicks now have plenty of momentum behind them. Not only are they on an eight game winning streak, but they are battling with the Indiana Pacers for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference as well as maintaining pace in the Atlantic Division. In defeating Miami in the season series, there’s no telling how much of a push that would provide the team in the regular season’s final weeks.
This means that banged-up New York must be in full communication from start to finish, fighting past key players being out and looking to beat the Heat in the paint and on offense. So long as certain players can step up, that elusive win should easily be achieved.
Time: Tuesday, April 2, 8 p.m. ET
Records: Miami Heat (58-18) vs. New York Knicks (46-26)
Injuries: Mario Chalmers (ankle, day-to-day), LeBron James (hamstring, day-to-day), Dwyane Wade (ankle, day-to-day), Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee, out), Kurt Thomas (foot, out), Tyson Chandler (neck, game-time decision), Kenyon Martin (abdomen, day-to-day)
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Chris Bosh
Assuming that Chandler is able to suit up for this game, and that could easily happen as ESPN’s Jared Zwerling is reporting him as a game-time decision, his battle in the paint with Miami’s Chris Bosh is going to be the story of the game. This is because despite having solid size at 6’11″, 235 pounds, Bosh plays more like a scoring power forward or stretch 4 than a true defensive center, like the 7’1″, 240 pound Chandler.
Bosh has posted 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season while shooting 53.5 percent from the field, but has averaged 16.2 points, 6.2 boards and 2.2 blocks over his last five games. Unlike most centers, he likes to use his jump shot and even three-point game rather than stay exclusively in the paint. As a result, Miami is the worst rebounding team in the league.
It’s going to be Chandler’s job to ensure that Bosh ONLY plays in the paint. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 10.7 points and 11 rebounds per contest and has also made 64.5 percent of his field goal attempts this season. Were it not for his recent lengthy absence (10 games), he would lead the league in that area.
Since he appears somewhat likely to play in this game, it is critical that he be a defensive machine. This means going after every rebound on both sides of the floor and not backing down from any battle whatsoever.
On Bosh’s end, it’s just a matter of taking advantage of Chandler’s absence and forcing him out of his comfort zone by making him keep up with Miami’s fast-paced offense. This battle can easily become a stalemate, so fans should definitely tune in to watch it go down.
X-Factor: Steve Novak
With so many players injured, we all know that the Knicks need strong performances from everyone, from starters to bench players. In this game against Miami, just how well New York does is going to heavily depend on their three-point specialist in Novak.
After scoring a total of 25 points over the first two meetings between these teams, Novak was held scoreless in Round 3. For someone who has shot 43 percent from long range this season and has also shown improvement in creating off the dribble, that’s unacceptable given how well the Heat score points.
This means that in the fourth and final round of the regular season, Novak MUST be at his best. He must get himself open, demand the ball and not hesitate whatsoever when it comes to taking a shot.
Even if a defender is barreling down on him, he cannot get scared and throw the ball up in desperation. He must maintain form and expect nothing less than a shot that falls through the net. In doing so, the Knicks’ offensive attack becomes more dangerous and harder for the Heat to contain.
That said, if Novak’s shots are falling from the get-go, Knicks fans should get ready to celebrate another victory over their longstanding rivals.
There’s one thing that can be said about this game; it’s going to be incredibly close from start to finish. In this case, I’m picking the Knicks to come away with the victory.
Nothing against Miami, but New York has been playing such great basketball as of late that it’s hard to count them out. Moreover, let’s not forget that the Heat could be without reigning MVP in James as well as a great scorer and pest in Wade.
Even if the two do play, the Knicks have too much momentum at their backs. Carmelo Anthony will have a great scoring game once again, as will J.R. Smith, and under-the-radar guys like Iman Shumpert and a diamond-in-the-rough in Martin will also shine bright. New York will thus leave the game with a season series victory, while Miami just watches completely stunned at their latest loss.
New York Knicks 107, Miami Heat 100