You won’t find many observers who give the Knicks a shot to take out LeBron James and the Heat in the first round.
And for good reason.
Miami dominated New York in the regular season, winning all three matchups by an average of 10 points. So the Knicks need to play near-flawless basketball to compete against the Heat in the playoffs.
Here’s a veteran scout’s take on five things New York needs to do to beat Miami:
FEED OFF OF MELO
Carmelo Anthony carried the Knicks late in the second half of the season. With Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin out due to injury, Anthony went off, scoring 32 points per game and knocking down nearly half of his 3-point attempts during a nine-game stretch in April.
According to our scout, Anthony can be a dual threat against Miami -- as both an offensive force and a decoy. The Heat are expected to throw several defenders at Anthony, which should create uncontested shots for other scorers.
The Knicks need to take advantage.
“Depending on the scheme and (Miami’s) counters, the Knicks may have more open looks against Miami than Chicago,” the scout said. “That could give guys like J.R. Smith or Steve Novak a chance to do something.”
GET AMARE GOING
Stoudemire finished off a disappointing campaign with a flurry in the Knicks’ regular season finale, scoring 21 points against Charlotte on Thursday night. To get Stoudemire going in the playoffs, the Knicks could use him more as a screener in the pick-and-roll -- a role that was occupied for much of the regular season by Tyson Chandler.
“You can definitely have a lot of success against Miami’s pick-and-roll defense with the right personnel or the right spacing and scheme. How they go about attacking that will be interesting,” the scout said. “The pick-and-pop or the half-roll is open (for the shooter). And I think that would definitely be an advantage for Amare, if they want to use him that way or he’s healthy enough to do that.”
KEEP KING JAMES OUT OF THE PAINT
James can be a nightmare no matter where he catches the ball. But clearly he becomes more dangerous when he’s penetrating and drawing defenders. So Anthony and the Knicks' help-defenders need to try to contain James and turn him into a more of a jump shooter.
“He’s good enough to where he can hit those (outside) shots and it’s all for naught,” the scout said, “but I think the percentages say make him a perimeter shooter, a 3-point shooter.”
WIN THE BENCH BATTLE
One distinct advantage the Knicks should have in this series is in their second unit. For much of the season, the Knicks’ bench has been a strength, thanks to the hot hand of Novak, the active hands of Iman Shumpert and, when he’s playing well, the athleticism of Smith.
Miami’s bench hasn’t posed as much of a consistent threat when compared to New York’s. So the Knicks' reserves will be key if they want to compete.
“With Smith and Novak that can definitely be an advantage,” the scout said. “They need to exploit that as best they can.”
REBOUND, REBOUND, REBOUND
Miami outrebounded New York by 14 in its win at Madison Square Garden on April 15. If the Heat have a similar advantage in this series, the Knicks will be in trouble. Both teams averaged 41.8 rebounds per game this season, but the Heat's rebounding rate was significantly higher than the Knicks’, so our scout said New York needs its superstars (Stoudemire and Anthony) to be active on the boards.
“That’s critical,” the scout said. “Amare and Melo have to rebound. It can’t be a one-man show. I love Tyson Chandler, but he needs help.”