After enough phases, narratives, identities, and drama to last most teams a couple of years, the Knicks wild season is over and the playoffs begin today. When considering all of the stories that unfolded during the compressed 66-game, lockout-shortened schedule, it seems fitting that the Knicks would open it up by playing the Miami Heat.
I’ve yet to see anyone predict the Knicks to win this series, and understandably so. If you watched any of the regular season meetings between these two teams, it undoubtedly seems like the Heat are the worst matchup the Knicks could have drawn. However, given how truly insane the Knicks season was, I don’t think this will be a series that can be judged from any of the prior three games the Knicks and the Heat played this year.
Sure, narratives, stats, trends will carry over for each team, some matchups, advantages and disadvantages, and strategies will remain the same, but this strikes me as a series that will be pretty unpredictable.
Does that mean the Knicks will win? I don’t know. I don’t know if the games will even be close. Perhaps it’s my own fandom, my own Knicks bias that’s tinting my outlook, but I just can’t say with any confidence that I know what to expect from this series.
Nonetheless, for the Knicks to have any chance on winning a few games, let alone the series, certain things will have to happen. Here are my keys to Game 1:
NERVES. The Knicks have some proven playoff performers in Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, and J.R. Smith, but guys like Landry Fields (I’m still haunted by how shaken he was against Boston last year), Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries, or even Josh Harrellson have little to no experience in big games. The Miami Heat are an intimidating team, and the Miami crowd can be loud, too. But the Knicks need to be cool, calm, and collected. If they play nervous it will show, and the Heat will feed off that. By playing loose, but concentrated, it will allow the Knicks to play their game.
AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE. Amar’e has had a bumpy, uneven, if not flat-out tumultuous season, but if the Knicks have any chance against Miami, Amar’e has to be the STAT we came to love last year. His role will be critical in the offense. We know he has success in the pick-and-roll, and can finish around the basket, but his midrange jumper will be critical.
If he can hit his jumpers, it will open up his drives to the basket, which in turn will open up the whole offense. If Amar’e doesn’t hit those jumpers, the Heat can neutralize the pick-and-roll, and focus entirely too much on Carmelo Anthony. If Stoudemire provides a diverse, secondary scoring punch to Carmelo, it will give ‘Melo space to play his game, while allowing open looks from the perimeter for the surrounding shooters.
TURNOVERS. The Heat force a ton of turnovers – a fraction fewer than the Knicks, who are amongst the best in the league – and they thrive in the transition game. The Knicks can beat the Heat in a battle of execution, but the Heat get their mojo in transition with highlight passes and dunks. Simply said, when they play at a fast pace, it can be completely debilitating to an opponent.
The onus will be on Baron Davis (who has gotten a good amount of rest over the last week), and Iman Shumpert to make smart passes, especially on the perimeter, where any of Miami’s guards and wings can get a jumpstart on the break. Turnovers are almost always the result of mental mistakes, so if the Knicks play smart, they’ll cut their turnovers.
THE TYSON EFFECT. Tyson Chandler’s status is still unknown as he is out with flu. As we’ve seen, without Tyson, the Knicks allow opponents to score
33,000 about 115 ppg. Generally, as a rule of thumb, you don’t want to do that against one of the league’s best offenses like the Miami Heat. Especially since they love to attack the rim so much. If Chandler is out, we’ll see whether Woodson goes small with Amar’e at the 5, and Carmelo at the 4, etc. etc. If not, he may plug in Jared Jeffries, who seems to have nursed his injuries and gotten cleared to play. Unfortunately, without Tyson, the Knicks will likely find themselves in an immediate hole.
The game starts at 3:30 PM ET on ABC. Do whatever you need to help the Knicks win! Voodoo dolls, animal sacrifices, rain dances, whatever! I’ll be in the corner, curled up into a ball until 3:30. Let’s go!