Throughout this roller-coaster of a regular season, the New York Knicks have gone through multiple identities. There was the “Trade ‘Melo” movement, Lin-sanity, the Woodson Era, and I’m sure I’m missing three or four other periods of play.
All we know is, with 10 games remaining, the team is tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference and are two games clear in the loss column ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, who the Knicks face tomorrow after a rematch with the Chicago Bulls tonight.
With all things considered, the Knicks best-case scenario for the playoffs is outplaying the Philadelphia 76ers over the next 10 games and capturing the 7th seed in the East. Either way, the Knicks will be facing one of the two juggernauts in the first round: the Bulls or the Miami Heat.
I’m here to tell you that, in a perfect world, the Knicks want to face the Heat in the first round.
I know what you’re thinking, and I ask you to hear me out. The knee-jerk reaction to my statement isn’t unjustified considering the the two times the Knicks and Heat have played this year, it hasn’t been close. The Heat have beat the Knicks by a total of 24 points in two games, while the Knicks have always played the Bulls tight, winning one of three, but never losing by more five points.
Yet, I still like the Heat as a match-up and there are three reasons why.
The first, the Heat have not faced this specific, Mike Woodson-led Knicks. The last time these two teams met was at the height of the Lin-sanity, and the Heat locked down Jeremy Lin and dominated the action from start to finish. However, this version of the Knicks plays with an emphasis on the defensive end and have begun playing a more complete basketball game. Woodson has handed the keys to the Knicks offense to Carmelo Anthony, who has finally taken the leap to the “this is my house, this is my team” attitude fans have been waiting for since he came over from Denver. ’Melo would be licking his chops if he got a chance to match-up with LeBron James, in New York, in the playoffs, with a chance to re-establish himself as a superstar.
Also, guard Iman Shumpert has taken the next step in his development under the guidance of Mike Woodson. Sunday’s game was his coming-out party to the nation: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assist, 4 steals. His defense would be the X-factor in any playoff series, but especially against the Heat and having the ability to man-up against Dwayne Wade. And there’s always Tyson Chandler, who last year proved to be the inside kryptonite to LeBron James for the Dallas Mavericks. That has to be in James’ head moving forward.
The second reason why the Knicks want to play the Heat: this team will struggle against elite point guards. What gets lost in the excitement of the Knicks win over the Bulls on Sunday was the 21-point lead the team blew against a resurgent Derrick Rose. As much as I love the defense Shumpert provides, he is yet to prove that he can match the quickness of an elite point guard, someone at the level of Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams or even Brandon Jennings.
With the Heat, if Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole is going to beat the Knicks, then they have more problems than originally thought. Neither of the two point guards for the Heat, regardless of how well they’ve played in spurts this season, play at a level superior to any of the potential points for the Knicks. If anything, a healthy (if that’s even possible) Baron Davis would have a slight advantage over the Heat. This team needs to avoid the dynamic point guards that populate rosters in the East, and the Heat are one team that doesn’t present a strong option at the lead guard.
The final reason why Knicks fans should want the Heat in Round 1: this is New York, baby! LeBron James needs to prove to the world that he won’t fold under the immense pressure of the playoffs. All eyes would be on James come late-April, early-May, fair or unfair.
There is no basketball environment quite like Madison Square Garden when the Knicks are playing at an elite level. We all saw what that place is like in a playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday. Carmelo embraced it, Shumpert embraced it, and it seemed to crack Derrick Rose ever so slightly.
Historically speaking, LeBron has owned the Garden. However, the last few times he has come to the Garden, he has been the show. The crowd wanted to see what LeBron could do against the Knicks, not what the Knicks can do to stop him. Now, everything has changed. This fan base is out for blood. Nobody has forgiven LeBron for choosing the Heat over the Knicks in the Summer of 2010. With Carmelo firmly entrenched as the Alpha Dog, there is a growing level of hatred for the Heat this city hasn’t seen since Jeff Van Gundy was glued to the ankles of Alonzo Mourning. We want to be the fans that officially break LeBron. We want to haunt his career. We want him running off our court with his tail between his legs. I don’t know one Knicks fan that doesn’t want to be, in some small way, personally responsible for another Heat collapse.
Look, I understand that priority #1 is just getting to the playoffs. The Knicks last 10 games are incredibly difficult with match-ups with the Bulls, Bucks, Heat, Celtics, Hawks and Clippers ahead of them.
But, there is a new feeling for Knicks fans. We saw something Sunday that makes us all want to believe. Carmelo Anthony is here, officially. Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert are stepping up at the right time. And Steve Novak makes everybody want to believe whenever he heaves up a three.
This team is as exciting as it has ever been all year. Now, bring on the Heat.