Thursday, December 6, 2012
W2W4: Knicks vs. Heat
By Jared Zwerling
The Knicks had their fist win at home this season against the Heat, and since then they haven't lost at the Garden (7-0). Now, the Knicks are in Miami, where the Heat are also perfect (8-0). Longtime rivals going at it, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony (questionable with a lacerated finger) at power forward all make for the best matchup in sports on Thursday night.
Here are three things to watch for, starting at 8 p.m. on TNT:
1. How will the Heat defend Anthony? Allow James to take him alone? Throw double- and even triple-teams at him, like during the playoffs last spring? Whichever way, Erik Spoelstra knows what he's up against.
"He's a top-three preparation cover in the league," the Heat coach said after Thursday morning's shootaround. "For our coaching staff, he's a nightmare because he can do it everywhere on the floor that you can imagine."
The Heat might elect to go with more one-on-one on Anthony because the Knicks are more dangerous from downtown this season at 40.8 percent accuracy, which is third-best in the NBA. (The Heat have also upgraded with sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, who are both putting up high marks.)
Of course, the biggest question is if Melo does play, how effective can he be? Catching and shooting the ball could pose a challenge with his finger wound.
2. Can the Knicks continue their strong pick-and-roll play? This will especially have to happen if Anthony doesn't suit up. In the past two games, both wins, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler have taken their games to the next level. While Felton is averaging 20 points and eight assists, Chandler's at 16.5 points and 15.0 rebounds. James knows his guys need to defend much better than in their 104-84 loss on Nov. 2 at the Garden, especially by locking in on the Knicks' pick-and-roll playmaking. "They're a team that creates a lot of problems for your defense," he said, "and it starts with Tyson and Raymond Felton -- their pick-and-roll -- and also with one of the greatest scorers that we've all seen in Melo."
3. Can the Knicks take advantage of the Heat's smaller frontline? The Heat generally play smaller, but they'll shrink a bit down low because James will play more point-forward tonight. That's because Heat point guards Mario Chalmers (torn finger tendon) and Norris Cole (strained groin) are both banged up and game-time decisions. Power forward Udonis Haslem (hip pointer) is also not certain to play.
While the Knicks like to go smaller as well, to add more 3-pointer shooters on the court, this is the kind of the game where Chandler, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and even Chris Copeland could provide a much-needed punch inside.
The Heat will especially be fired up after coming off of their worst loss of the season, against the 2-13 Wizards. But they'll likely be men down and Spoelstra admitted on Thursday, "We're not playing our best basketball right now."