For Knicks fans, a showdown with the Miami Heat naturally brings forth feelings of rage, animosity, and perhaps above all, excitement. The two teams partook in their fair share of battlesin the ’90s when they were bitter rivals. Battles that featured overwhelmingly outward displays of passion. Battles that resulted in heartbreak and hullabaloo, and, of course, the occasional fisticuffs.
But with the Knicks having spent most of the last decade in a cellar of incompetence, that rivalry burned out as quickly as it had started. Only recently has it been revived, and to call it “revived” is even a bit of a stretch. The two teams have mostly become a marquee match-up because they were built in similar ways.
Recall that in the long wait for the highly anticipated summer of 2010, the Knicks were the first team to clear enough salary for two superstar free agents, LeBron James being the main target. The Miami Heat, however, one-upped the Knicks and signed three free agents (James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh), thus beginning the Knicks’ quest for their own Big 3.
New York acquired Carmelo Anthony at heavy costs, and effectively kissed cap space goodbye by pulling off a $56 million sign-and-trade for Tyson Chandler. And now here they are, seated in the seventh seed, looking up at the second-place Miami Heat who they were modeled after. Let the rivalry be renewed!
In the weeks leading up to the conclusion of the regular season, there was a great amount of debate as to whether the Knicks should purposely tank to avoid playing the Miami Heat, who swept the season series and won by an average of twelve points.
Since the Miami Big Three formed, they’ve won five of the seven meetings, and in the two Knicks victories, the game came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. But here I am, suggesting that we all forget what happened last season, even forget what happened this season.
The Knicks have had several different identities this season, and the Heat have never faced any of them more than once or at full health.
In January, they faced a Knicks team without Carmelo Anthony and lacking any point guard play or consistency. In February, they faced the Linsanity team with Anthony working his way back from injuries and Jeremy Lin, exhausted from his sudden, glorious emergence. Most recently, they faced a Knicks team with a red hot Anthony playing power forward, missing Amar’e Stoudemire as the other Knicks were unable to provide a secondary scoring punch against the Heat.
Now, the Knicks head into the playoffs with the roster they thought they’d have in training camp when they said they’d be going hunting in Miami. This is a team that Mike D’Antoni said “will” beat the Miami Heat, as Alan Hahn revealed. There’s plenty to be excited for if you’re the Knicks (and being the fans we are, that means we’re part of the Knicks, and thus, we get to be excited too!).
Anthony is playing arguably the best basketball of his life, posting 30 ppg on 50% shooting, 7 rpg, and 4 apg in April. Amar’e Stoudemire, though not completely integrated into the lineup, looks like his back is in good condition. Just ask Tyrus Thomas. We get to watch Iman Shumpert guard Dwyane Wade. Steve Novak finished the season leading the league in 3-point percentage. Baron Davis has had sufficient rest, playing just two games over the last week and a half. J.R. Smith seems focused on being impactful off the bench.
If there was ever a team to bring out the most hostile Garden crowd, it’s the Miami Heat. James’ crunch time struggles have been well-chronicled and that probably doesn’t bode well for the Heat to play in the Mecca of basketball with a raucous crowd that smells blood. If the Knicks can steal one game in Miami, the stakes become much greater for Miami who have much more pressure on their collective shoulders than the Knicks.
There’s plenty to be excited for in this series. And yet, that’s all the reason to be terrified. These are the New York Knicks after all, and in this wild 2011-12 season, we’ve learned that we can’t assume anything. But if there was ever a chance for a miracle to happen, it only seems fitting that it would happen now.