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2012 NBA Playoff Preview: How the New York Knicks Will Beat the Miami Heat

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2012 NBA Playoff Preview: How the New York Knicks Will Beat the Miami Heat
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Carmelo and LeBron square off for the first time in the playoffs.

The New York Knicks are saying all the right things leading up to their first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat

But if you held their feet to the coals, the Knicks would admit that they are kicking themselves about some of the inexcusable losses that they suffered early in the season pre-Linsanity, and after Carmelo Anthony's reinsertion to the lineup post-Linsanity (We'll call it "B.L." and "A.L." from here on out, you know like "B.C." and "A.D."). 

The Knicks finished one game behind the Orlando Magic who came in sixth in the Eastern Conference and were rewarded by avoiding the juggernauts at the top of the East (Miami and the Chicago Bulls). 

The Knicks did lose those games though, so here we are. The result turns out to be hands down the most fascinating first-round matchup in the East, and quite possibly the entire league. It's no secret that the Heat are huge favorites in this series (and to represent the East in the Finals for that matter), but there is a blueprint for a Knicks upset that doesn't include LeBron James being hit by a bus stepping off the curb in midtown Manhattan.

Despite the popular opinion that LeBron James isn't a clutch player, and Carmelo Anthony is, their statistics don't back it up. LeBron's postseason averages for points, rebounds and assists all best his career regular season averages. 

Melo's on the other hand are almost identical. This is not to mention that LeBron also ups his minutes per game by about five minutes during playoff games, while simultaneously guarding the other team's best player, regardless of position, on all of the big possessions. 

The only nit to be picked with LeBron's overall game in the postseason is his well-documented struggles late in games, but we all know that.

Given those statistics, step one to a Knicks upset will be that Carmelo needs to provide the Knicks offensively with about 80 percent of what LeBron and running mate Dwyane Wade provide for the Heat combined. 

In other words, if the Knicks can hold the Wade/LeBron duo to about 50 points per game (they averaged 49.2 during the 2011-12 regular season) instead of their collective playoff average (54 PPG), and Melo can give the Knicks 40 points per game, the foundation for an upset will be established.

Craig Jones/Getty Images
The Knicks will need Melo to lead the way, just like he did when he took Syracuse to a National Championship in college.

One of the Knicks' greatest strengths believe it or not is their bench. Coming into the season, the chances that the previous sentence would appear anywhere were remote to say the least. Again, here we are. 

The key to the Knicks bench is the three-point shooting of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith. New York averaged 23.3 3 point field goal attempts per game, which was second most in the league in large part because of the additions of Smith and Novak, who shot 35 percent and 47 percent respectively during the regular season. 

On the other hand, two of Miami's biggest weaknesses are their bench and their ability to guard the three-point line (36 percent opponent three-point FG percentage, 26th in the league). Step two in the upset recipe is for Novak and Smith to combine to shoot over 40 percent from three in the series. 

The Knicks need Novak and Smith to out-play the Miami bench in the same way that Wade and LeBron will out play Melo and whoever the second best offensive starter will be for New York.

In the two years since LeBron and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat, they have matched up with Tyson Chandler 11 times in the regular season and the playoffs. In those games the Heat are 5-6 against the Chandler-led Knicks and Dallas Mavericks teams. The Heat's big two of Wade and LeBron combined to average 47.3 PPG on 49 percent shooting in those 11 games. 

Since Mike Woodson took over as the New York Knicks head coach in March, there have been nine instances where Tyson Chandler has played at least 34 minutes. In those nine contests, the Knicks went 6-3.

What do all of these numbers mean? Tyson Chandler is extremely important to the success of the New York Knicks in this series. Numbers aside, watching the Finals last season it was undeniable that Chandler's presence in the paint had an effect on Wade and James' ability to get to the rim. 

Step three for New York is keeping Chandler healthy, effective and out of foul trouble for the entire series. Thirty-eight minutes per game should be the target if the Knicks will have a chance.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Chandler was a huge factor in Dallas' series victory over Miami in last year's Finals

A major reason for Chandler's success in stopping the Heat is center Joel Anthony's presence in the lineup. Given that Anthony averages less than three points per game for his career, Chandler can essentially play "free safety" when Anthony is on the floor, allowing him free range to help out on Wade and James. 

This leads me to my next point. A huge factor in this series will be both team's ability to play "small ball." For a majority of the stretch run, the Knicks were without Amar'e Stoudemire, which forced them to go with a lineup that featured Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position. 

According to 82games.com, with the five-man unit of Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Melo and Chandler, the Knicks were very successful. They outscored their opponents by 30 points with that lineup on the floor and won 75 percent of the games that this unit outscored the opposition.   

Given Joel Anthony's struggles, Miami is also more than willing to play small, going with LeBron as the power forward and Bosh at center. The five-man unit of Mario Chalmers, Wade, Shane Battier, LeBron and Bosh had shockingly similar statistics to the Knicks small lineup in nearly the same minutes played.  Miami's five was plus-26 for the season and won 76.9 percent of games that they outscored the opponent with this lineup.

What do these numbers mean? Amar'e Stoudemire will be the X-factor in this series, in potentially limited minutes. Given New York's success with the small lineup, they may be wise to have Amar'e come off the bench, but that ship appears to have sailed.

The final step in the Knicks game plan for securing one of the bigger NBA playoff upsets in recent memory is limiting Stoudemire to about 18 effective minutes per game. Eighteen minutes keeps the Knicks' most effective lineup on the floor longer, while also giving Amar'e the best chance to be the Amar'e of old. 

If all of these "if's" and "but's" still aren't enough to give Knick fans any confidence, they should remember that the last time the NBA had a shortened season in 1999, New York beat the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. It has all the makings of a fun series. Enjoy.

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