The Knicks will open up their first round playoff series with the Miami Heat this afternoon, revitalizing a postseason rivalry that has been dormant, waiting to erupt for eleven long years.
Though New York ultimately had Miami’s number during much of the 1990’s, coming out on top during many of their playoff battles, they will instead hit the hardwood in 2012 as the underdogs.
It will take a larger than life effort from the Knicks to defeat the Heat this time. What’s the main objective in this series, you ask? Containing the Heat’s “Big Three,” and furthermore, proving their opponent’s offensive firepower is not too much for them to handle.
As if the challenge didn’t appear daunting enough, the Knicks’ defensive anchor, Tyson Chandler, did not practice with the team in Miami and is questionable for game one as he suffers from flu-like symptoms.
Because of this, even more of the weight will fall on the shoulders of Carmelo Anthony. Just named the “Eastern Conference Player of the Month” for April, the star forward will take all of that momentum with him into the playoffs. As he demonstrated while leading the Knicks to a 9-4 record this month, Anthony can emerge as a leader, even carrying the team on his back when necessary.
That said, though Anthony exploded for 42 points in a game vs. the Heat just less than two weeks ago, it still resulted in a losing effort for the Knicks.
This is why he’ll require some help if the Knicks want any chance at besting the Heat in this series of seven. Amar’e Stoudemire will need to rise above with some old school STAT offensive prowess, displaying aggressiveness at the basket. The big man’s few efforts since returning from his back injury have shown promise, so perhaps there is hope Stoudemire has regained his strong form in time for a playoff run.
But the offensive game doesn’t just end with the stars. Efficiency from the point guard position is perhaps more crucial than anything else. Though Baron Davis was widely expected to be the team’s floor general savior throughout the season, he has failed to show any level of positive consistency. Instead, he’s ran the point quite erratically, turning the ball over and/or displaying a rather flat jump shot.
With Davis representing quite the question mark as the Knicks enter the postseason, it may be smart to attempt to cash in on the strong month of April from Mike Bibby. The veteran’s play has been far from flashy, but he gets the job done by distributing the basketball effectively. Considering what’s at stake, it’ll be better for the team to roll with whomever has the momentum in their favor. The need for efficiency is severe, no matter who it comes from.
The Knicks will also look to overwhelm the Heat with its strong bench production. Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, both of whom have the ability to sink opponents by draining the long ball again and again, are just two components of the second unit otherwise known as “Mobb Deep.”
Novak and Smith can both pour in double-figures with ease. What’s more, Landry Fields has begun to build up his comfort level while coming off the pine, forming some chemistry with that unit as well. A player like himself only stands to make that secondary attack even stronger.
With New York looking to overwhelm Miami on the offensive end, it’s important they also stand their own ground on defense as well. With an offense headlined by two M.V.P. worthy candidates, the Heat can hit an opponent in a number of different ways. In the interest of stepping up, Anthony is certain to be tasked with guarding LeBron James. As such, his defense needs to be stellar. Simply playing a game of “anything you can do, I can do better” on offense will not cut it this time. By trying to match James’ offensive output, Anthony makes things that much more difficult for himself. If he is able to use his agility to keep up with James, buckling down on defense, everything else will come in much easier fashion.
Should Chandler in fact sit out game one, Stoudemire will have the burden of containing Chris Bosh all by his lonesome. Bosh has been able to torch the Knicks before due to lack of defensive pressure. Not a strong defender himself, STAT needs to be careful not to allow Bosh to get inside. His defensive strategy should be simple: keep Bosh handicapped around the perimeter and force him to take jumpers, because he’s bound to miss some. While Stoudemire may not be capable of shutting Bosh down, the least he can do is make the effort to throw him off.
Though these two one-on-one matchups will surely prove to be entertaining, perhaps the most intriguing of all is Iman Shumpert vs. Dwyane Wade. Such a matchup pits the Chicago kid up against a rising Chicago legend. Though he’s been beaten by Wade multiple times before, Shumpert has also never been one to back down from a challenge nor defensive assignment. The playoffs represent a whole new season. If Shumpert has gotten the opportunity to watch some tape and learn from past mistakes, he could potentially use that knowledge (and the defensive prowess he’s showed against the likes of Derrick Rose and Paul Pierce already this season) to keep up with Wade throughout the series.
There is no doubt that an abundance of things have to click and go the Knicks’ way in order to get a series win over the Heat. After a season of twists and turns, it’s safe to say New York has found a good receipt for success. It’s simply a matter of whether or not they are able to cook it up and serve it to Miami.