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Will Dwyane Wade show some rust in Game 1? Will the Heat win the series? It's time to debate.
In the first postseason installment of the Heat Index's special 5-on-5 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat host the Knicks in Game 1.
1. Fact or Fiction: In crunch-time, you'd prefer Carmelo over LeBron.
Jim Cavan, Knickerblogger: Fact. Melo’s late-game effectiveness is well documented, and he absolutely could win one of these games down the stretch. That said, sooner or later LeBron’s going to uncork a reputation-swinging crunch-time performance – it’s just the law of averages. He has the ability to win games clandestinely, through all quarters and with all tools laid bare. I love Melo, but I’ll take the latter.
Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. For a last-second shot? Yeah, I'd probably take Carmelo. For a possession or multiple possessions, I'd probably take LeBron. For what it's worth, LeBron is shooting better than Carmelo in crunchtime this season (game within five points inside final five minutes), converting shots at 45.3 percent clip versus Carmelo's 37.8 percent. Put it this way: As a coach, I'm picking LeBron; he'll make the smart basketball play. As a fan, I'm picking Carmelo; he'll take the dramatic shot that I'll always remember.
Michael Wallace: Fiction. I need more information than that. My choice would depend on the team I was playing against, the supporting cast on the court and other variables. Do I need a 3? Am I down 1? If I need a jumper, I'm going with Melo. If I need a general play to be made based on versatility, it's LeBron.
Brian Windhorst: Fact. When they first came to the league most thought Melo and LeBron would be relative equals. This has not turned out to be the case, LeBron is the superior player. But Anthony's resume is unquestionably better in executing clutch shots. In this area, Anthony's really had no peer during his career.
Jared Zwerling, ESPNNewYork: Fact. Among players who have taken at least 20 field goal attempts in game-tying or game-winning situations in the last 15 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime in the past 10 years, Anthony ranks first in field goal percentage (46.2; 24-for-52), according to the Elias. His 24 field goals are second only to Kobe Bryant (26), but he's shooting only 30.2 percent in clutch situations (26-for-86). Melo's also shooting 46.7 percent on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of regulation or overtime -- the second-best mark in the last 16 seasons after the Mavericks' Shawn Marion (47.4 percent). As for LeBron? Not even close to the top of the list.
2. Fact or Fiction: Chandler is the most important player in this series.
Cavan: Fact. For the Knicks, anyway. But – laugh all you want – J.R. Smith ain’t far behind.As one of the few semi-reliable wing defenders the Knicks have, Smith’s ability to slow down Wade and LeBron will be crucial. Ditto his shooting, where Earl’s stellar April (16ppg on 42% from distance) has to continue if the Knicks have any hope of making this a series.
Haberstroh: Fact. Let's frame it in hypotheticals. If the Knicks lose Carmelo Anthony for the series, I think they can still win a game based on sheer 3-point shooting and defense. If they lose Tyson Chandler, they get swept, in my opinion. He's that important to their defense and pick-and-roll attack, which will come in handy once the Heat stymie the isolation ball. As for LeBron, if the two teams were closer in talent level, I'd give the nod to LeBron here. But for the Knicks to have a chance, they need Chandler on the court.
Wallace: Fiction. LeBron James is the most important player in this series. This is as close to a Finals feel for LeBron since, well, since he melted down late in the Finals against Dallas. Tyson certainly had a big series for the Mavs, but the Heat could have overcome all those issues if LeBron resembled anything close to himself late.
Windhorst: Fiction. Chandler's ability to defend the rim is vital for the Knicks to have a chance. But the most important players in this series are the stars. Most of the time it's the stars who decide playoff series.
Zwerling: Fiction. LeBron James. After disappearing in the NBA Finals last year, succumbing to rookie mistakes by fumbling the ball, making poor passes and looking rattled on his drives far too often, the likely MVP has a lot to prove heading into this postseason. And it starts with the first round. He's the most important player in this series because he's the best overall offensive and defensive player. If he can play efficiently as the point-forward and especially out of the post, where he's been excelling more this season, as well as make it difficult for Carmelo Anthony -- easier said than done, of course -- the Heat will have the clear advantage.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks should start Amare Stoudemire.
Cavan: Fiction. With Melo on a tear and the two’s chemistry still in question, bringing Stat off the pine makes a lot of sense. At the very least the Knicks should consider giving him the bulk of his minutes with the second unit. No one says it has to be permanent; they’ll have ample time to sort out the glitches this summer. But now’s no time for basketball alchemy.
Haberstroh: Fiction. He's weighed them down all season long. Take a strong whiff of these numbers: the Knicks are +8.4 points every 48 minutes when Carmelo plays without Stoudemire, but -2.4 when the two stars share the floor. Enough forcing the issue. It's the playoffs. Better to bring Stoudemire off the bench with the second unit and isolate the problem. I get that Stoudemire's making $18.2 million this season, but that's Jim Dolan's problem, not the Mike Woodson's.
Wallace: Fact. He's a starting player in this league. This isn't like a Ray Allen situation in Boston. Amare is still capable of having a major impact on this team. I know Carmelo has flourished while Stoudemire has been out. But this team can't reach it's full potential if Melo and 'Mar'e can't coexist.
Windhorst: Fact. In general, I don't really care who starts games. I'm much more interested in who finishes. In this case, I think having Stoudemire out there adds some challenge to the Heat defense. It forces James to defend Anthony more regularly, which the Heat would prefer to save until late in games.
Zwerling: Fact. Well, first of all, if Tyson Chandler misses Game 1 with the flu, Stoudemire will have to start no matter what. But overall, STAT should be in the starting five. The first reason has to do with defensive matchups. With the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks wouldn't want to start Anthony at the four because that would mean Landry Fields would be on James. And that's a major mismatch. While STAT's not a consistently effective defender, he can make some stops against Bosh with his length and athleticism. Offensively, while Anthony and Stoudemire still don't play great together -- that's because Melo is much more heavy in isolation -- Stoudemire's midrange jumper should come in handy from Anthony's penetration. And Stoudemire is getting that pop back since his back injury.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Heat should be concerned about rust.
Cavan: Factish. To the extent that stealing Game 1 would prove a potentially major coup for the surging Knicks, the Heat can’t afford to lay an egg today. Then again, we’re talking about a team buttressed by two players whose space age makeup is pretty much immune to earthly things like “rust.” Considering the condensed season, rest > rust.
Haberstroh: Fiction. They might be rusty, but I don't think a missed shot here and there is worth being concerned about in the big picture. Looking at the forest instead of the trees, the Heat needed LeBron, Wade and Bosh to be fully rested going into the playoffs. They'll be riding them more than ever.
Wallace: Fact. I don't care how much talent you have, you just can't expect to roll out onto the court and pick up where you left off after two weeks of not playing together. There will be rust early. And if Miami is vulnerable in this series, it's in Game 1. But the Heat have shown they come get on track quickly.
Windhorst: Fiction. Maybe it's a factor in Game 1. But they get to play that one at home, where they were 28-5 this season. Getting rest was vital.
Zwerling, ESPNNewYork: Fiction. Maybe a bit in the first quarter of Game 1, but a few days won't derail the Heat throughout the course of a playoff environment. They will be fired up, especially playing at home to open the series. Now, heading into the playoffs, James is healthy, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's trainer, Ed Downs, said they'll both be ready to go. Wade dislocated his left index finger earlier in the week and Bosh had been dealing with a left hamstring strain. By the way, let's not forget something here: The Knicks will have some rust, too.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Heat will win in six.
Cavan: Fact. The Knicks could steal a pair, but their point guard and wing defense issues can only be masked so long. Sooner or later, the Heat’s lane-hawking and point-bunch runs will turn tides, and the Flying Death Machine will reign victorious. But if the Knicks can somehow go up 3-2 and force a game 6 in the Garden, buckle your coaster belts.
Haberstroh: Fact. But if Chandler isn't right for the beginning of this series, that'll shave off a game or two. As long as the Knicks understand that Steve Novak and J.R. Smith are their best options next to Chandler and Carmelo, they should steal at least a game. It's bound to happen. But the Heat's strong one-on-one defense will give them the edge in this series against the most iso-heavy team in the league.
Wallace: Fact. That's exactly my prediction. Would I be stunned if the Knicks prove me wrong? Not really.
Windhorst: Fiction. I'll say five. Though the Knicks have the shooters to steal an extra game if they get red hot.
Zwerling: Fact. The Knicks will make things interesting by stealing one game on the road and winning one at home through a combination of their defense, Anthony's scoring exploits and J.R. Smith and Steve Novak's 3-point shooting. During the regular season, the Heat were one of the worst teams at defending threes because they try to utilize their perimeter athleticism to over-trap and over-play passing lanes, leaving guys like Smith and Novak wide open. But in the end, the Heat have too much firepower that will overwhelm the Knicks down the stretch (just like what happened on April 15) -- no matter how clutch Melo is.