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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Opening Tip: Validation against Heat?

By Jared Zwerling

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: With the Knicks winning their regular-season series against the Heat (3-1), can that carry over to a potential matchup in the playoffs?

59 to 29. That's how many more 3-pointers the Knicks made than the Heat in their four meetings against each other. And the Knicks won three of those.

While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade didn't play on Tuesday night, they did in the previous matchups. The third meeting in New York was the only time the Heat cooled off the Knicks from beyond the arc.

But the Knicks' philosophy of living and dying off the 3 has overall worked against the Heat, and now with Iman Shumpert knocking them down -- he was 3-for-5 Tuesday night -- they're even more dangerous from downtown. That, along with Carmelo Anthony's scoring, J.R. Smith's resurgence, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin's defensive presence, and the surrounding cast of veteran heads-up playmakers should keep things competitive for the Knicks.

Their biggest weakness has been succumbing at times to the Heat's halfcourt traps and then getting beat in transition, fueled by James and Wade in the open court. For example, Tuesday night, Raymond Felton had two early turnovers in the first quarter from the Heat's extra pressure. If James and Wade were playing, the score early on likely wouldn't have been as close.

For the most part, though, even with the Heat's superb perimeter defense -- arguably the best in the NBA -- the Knicks have found ways to expose it. While Smith said after Tuesday's game that regular-season success against a team is not a fair gauge for postseason play, the Knicks have a major edge with their 3-point shooting. Just hear Heat coach Erik Spoelstra describe it.

"We'll have to figure it out," he said after the game. "You don't want to leave it just to chance like that because they're capable of these types of nights. We have to [defend] it better. We have to [defend] it harder, and we might have to make some adjustments as well."

Overall, the 3-point shooting might only fuel the Knicks to winning a game or two against the Heat in possibly the Eastern Conference finals. Like James has Wade and Bosh, Anthony is going to need a second consistent offensive sidekick -- or even a third -- to beat the Heat. And the Knicks are going to have to win a few times in Miami, where the Heat are an astounding 32-4 -- the best home record in the league.

Do you think the Knicks controlling their regular-season series against the Heat means something heading into the playoffs? Leave us your comments below.

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