Like most NBA teams eliminated from the playoffs, the New York Knicks are now watching to see who wins it all. Especially since the Miami Heat who ousted them in the first round is now playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
As they took gratitude in seeing the Thunder rally to beat the Heat in Game 1, don’t be surprised if they have their notepads and pencils out taking notes on what make these title contenders tick. With that in mind, here are five things the New York Knicks can learn from the Heat and the Thunder to be title contenders next season.
Lesson 1: Showing Mental Toughness Against Adversity
Not letting someone break you. Being able to comeback from any obstacle or challenge no matter the odds. This is mental toughness in its purest form. And thus far in the playoffs both the Thunder and the Heat have shown great doses of this special ingredient.
In their second round against the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat lost Chris Bosh to an abdominal strain in Game 1. This proved to be huge loss because now the Heat were in desperate need of size and scoring. The Pacers took advantage of this and jumped to a 2-1 lead. Now down 2-1 and the Pacers with all the momentum in the world, the Heat responded by having their two stars, Dwyane Wade and Lebron James go on a scoring binge of epic proportions. Behind them the Heat were able to overcome losing Bosh to win three straight against the Pacers and close them out on their own floor.
While the Thunder have shown great mental toughness in every round. How many times have we seen the Thunder get out to slow start and come back to win it the second half? lt’s honestly starting to be the norm for this young and hungry Thunder team because they make the most of their regrouping opportunities. At halftime Scott Brooks beats in the X’s and O’s of how they can get back into the game and the Thunder go out and execute. They know that if they stay to their gameplan their unbreakable–the epitome of mental toughness– and by that point no lead is safe.
The Knicks should take note of this mentality. It’s something that all title winners have because they know the war that is the NBA title run. They know that if it easy everyone would be doing it. And that is why the Knicks need to implement this theme in the locker room more by They need to holding everyone accountable and playing like every possession is their last.
Lesson 2: Let Your Defense be Your Offense
Although both the Heat and Thunder are great offensive teams–averaging over a 100 points during the regular season–they let their defense set up their offense.
They use defensive stops to fuel their offense. Steals and deflections become easy transition buckets for these teams and the Knicks should do the same because at the end of the day, defense wins championships.
Quite frankly, the Knicks are halfway there on this lesson because their second unit. Between Iman Shumpert, Jr. Smith, and Steve Novak they provide positive energy for this Knicks team. But I would like to see more of this from the Knicks’ starting lineup. If the Knicks’ starting lineup can match this spark their second unit provides they will see successful results. And if their offense suffers, who cares. Because you can always coast on offense but if you let up on defense you’re done.
Lesson 3: Have Game-Changing X-Factors
Between the Heat and Thunder they have a plethora of players that can come in and change the complexion of a game and series.
For the Thunder it’s the defensive specialists Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, and Serge Ibaka. They use their hustle, energy, and grit to propel their team. Don’t believe me? Lets look back at what these guys did to the San Antonio Spurs–arguably the best team in the past decade.
When Sefolosha started guarding Tony Parker he was able to slow down Parker’s penetration and narrow his passing lanes because of his length and size. While Ibaka with his large frame and great lateral quickness did an exceptional job guarding Manu Ginobili off of pick and rolls. And Perkins did all the little things that don’t show up on a box score: set sturdy screens, alter shots, and intimidate the mess out of players.
As for the Heat, floor spacing is key for them and it starts and ends with Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier taking and making perimeter shots. If the three’s are falling for the Heat they become incredibly hard to cover. While the floor is stretched, Wade and Lebron are able to wreak havoc by ducking their heads and driving to the basketball where they’re adept finishers. Along with this if Udonis Haslem is ferocious rebounder and hitting his mid-range jumper the Heat become very versatile in how they can make you pay for helping on Lebron and Wade drives.
The Knicks X-factors are Smith, Shumpert, and Novak–no surprise there. They are all game-changers with their activity and shooting. But the Knicks need others to step up provide sparks because Shumpert has proven to be injury prone in his rookie season, Smith can be a big headache, and Novak despite his positive locker presence and automatic shooting is a liability on defense.
Lesson 4: Make The Extra Pass
Ball movement is a basic fundamental of basketball but it’s one that has tremendous impact on today’s game. With so many teams implementing traps and helping on defense, making the extra pass will find the open teammate for a high percentage shot. Not only is this efficient basket it also “team” basketball. The Heat and Thunder are great passing teams and are both willing to move the ball to get a quality shot.
I’m not saying the Knicks don’t have this but it’s something that they should practice daily because that’s what all the best teams do: practice fundamentals religiously. If you watched the NBA’s Final Four you saw spectacular ball movement win games and poor ball movement lose games.
Lesson 5: Learn From Your Mistakes
Plain and simple.
Both teams have gotten to the Finals by learning from their past mistakes.
The Thunder lost to both the Lakers and Mavericks in past playoffs but this year they beat both in a sweeping fashion in the first two rounds of the playoffs. That is because they owned up to their weaknesses and made them strengths. Kevin Durant learned from Dirk Nowitzki on how to close games and now he’s out dueling the best of closers thus far in the playoffs. So much that he has left both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant in awe by his potential. With the former saying that, “he’s way ahead of my curve” and the latter commenting on his potential, “a 6-11 me.”
Last year, critics ripped into Lebron about needing improve his post game, so he enlisted the help of arguably the best post player to play the game: Hakeem Olajuwon. Because of it Lebron is scoring more efficiently. According to Olajuwon, Lebron’s historic 45 point effort in Game 6 against the Celtics showed what he learned, “The way they were executed it was a joy to watch because I know that we worked on that, and to see him using it at a most crucial time. He is in a comfort zone, and he is doing it how he is supposed to do it.”
Both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire could do what Lebron and Durant has done here. While I’ll say that Anthony is arguably the best one-on-one scorer in the league but you’re never too good to expand your game. Anthony could start by improving motivation for defense which is lacking more often than not. As for Stoudemire he could do like Lebron and expand his post game so he can assimilate better into the half court offense the Knicks will most likely be running next season.