2012 NBA Playoffs: Full Knicks-Heat Preview and Analysis

Sam QuinnContributor IIIApril 27, 2012

2012 NBA Playoffs: Full Knicks-Heat Preview and Analysis

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    I've written on several occasions that the Knicks can beat the Heat in the playoffs. 

    Heat vs. Knicks is the most intriguing first round match up west of Clippers vs. Grizzlies, and should provide great basketball no matter how long the series goes. 

    Just look at the sub plots. 'Melo vs. LeBron, New York vs. Miami, a 90's throwback series, there is so much going on here that it's almost impossible to keep track.

    That's what I'm here for. Here is a full preview for the Eastern Conference's 2 vs. 7 match up. 

Point Guard

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    If we're being perfectly honest, the point guard matchup of Baron Davis vs. Mario Chalmers is probably the most inconsequential match up of the series. It's the only position where neither team has a star.

    However, that doesn't mean this matchup won't be important. The floor generals will play a big part in getting the ball to those aforementioned stars. 

    Athletically, the edge goes to Mario Chalmers. He's only 25 and should be able to beat Baron Davis (a pedestrian defender in his best days) off the dribble.

    Unfortunately for Miami, I don't think Erik Spoelstra is going to give Chalmers the freedom to do that. The Heat are pretty much set in their ways, the offense runs entirely through LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Therefore I think a pretty big advantage for Miami is going to be squandered.

    Just because Chalmers is younger, though, doesn't necessarily mean I think he wins this match up. The Knicks signed Baron Davis for this point in the season. 

    His stats are down, but I don't think that's really on him. He's been an accessory to Linsanity, changed coaches, and is just now starting to adjust to being a Knick. 

    Remember, Baron Davis was the leader of the team responsible for the biggest playoff upset in recent memory (Golden State over Dallas in 2007). He knows what it takes to win playoff games. I'm not saying Chalmers hasn't made his fair share of big plays as well (how many guys can say they've sent an NCAA title game to overtime?), but Davis is in a better position to actually use his playoff experience. 

    So really, this match up comes down to preference. You can take the younger Chalmers or the wily veteran Davis. I don't think you can go wrong either way, and even if one side swings the match up I doubt either of these guys swing the series. 

    Edge: Push 

Shooting Guard

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    Dwyane Wade is the obvious best player at his position in this series. He's a Top 10 player in the league, so of course he's gonna get his points. I can't possibly nitpick can I? Of course I can!

    Expect Iman Shumpert to play big minutes guarding Wade. Landry Fields will likely cover him the rest of the time. Both are plus defenders. In fact, Shumpert's defensive ratings (a metric that estimates the total number of points a player gives up per 100 possessions) of 101 is one of the best for a rookie ever. 

    With Tyson Chandler roaming the paint, Wade is going to have a much harder time driving the lane. Not only did we see this in the finals last year, but throughout their careers, Wade has seen large statistical drops against Chandler

    His scoring drops to around 22 points per game, his shooting percentage drops to around 45 percent and his turnovers rise to 4.4 per game. What this tells us is that when Wade plays Chandler, he has to resort largely to jump shots and moving around on the perimeter. With Shumpert and Fields guarding him the Knicks can expect to limit Wade's production to reasonable amounts. 

    Ideally, the Knicks would hope to force Wade into shooting three pointers. His abysmal three point percentage against Chandler (a bit less than 17 percent) is negligible because of the small sample size, but Wade's season statistics show that his shooting touch is off, this year. He's shooting just below 27 percent from three, this year.

    His three point percentages aren't the only longer range shots Wade has struggled with. His range stats show show that Wade is shooting less than 44 percent from 10-15 feet and only 37 percent from 16-23 feet. In other words, if the Knicks can keep Wade away from the rim and force him to shoot mid range jumpers and threes, they should be able to limit his production.

    Combine all of this with Wade's injuries this year and I think Dwyane Wade actually has a relatively quiet series. Well, quiet by his standards, at least.

    Edge: Miami

Small Forward

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    This is the match up that will decide the series. The league's likely MVP vs. The MVP of the last month. 

    Carmelo Anthony has carried the Knicks into the playoffs by playing some of the best basketball of his career in the month of April. He averaged 30 points and just over eight rebounds per game, in leading the Knicks to an 8-4 stretch to close out the year and secure the seventh seed in the East. 

    Now, let's talk about LeBron's historic season. For a good portion of the season, LeBron was on pace to break Michael Jordan's incredible PER (player efficiency rating) record of 31.89. He couldn't quite get there, but his PER of 30.8 was still so good that the difference between him and second place Chris Paul was larger than the difference between Paul and eighth place Blake Griffin. 

    When we look at the head to head stats, we can see that James and 'Melo really step up defensively against each other. LeBron has slight edges in scoring and rebounding, but the margin is cut when you factor in LeBron's extra field goal attempts and minutes. Carmelo has a 9-6 edge in the win column, but LeBron has a 2-1 edge since the two joined their current teams. 

    In other words, when these two play it's usually as close as it can get. Either one of these guys can take over the series and win it for their team. LeBron is the MVP and has homecourt advantage, so he'll go into the series with the edge, but expect that to change several times throughout the series. 

    Edge: Miami

Power Forward

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    Let's call this the match up of not quite stars. Injuries have limited Amar'e this year, and Chris Bosh was just plain overrated. 

    Bosh's stats have regressed in year two with the Heat, which is odd as you'd expect more familiarity with his teammates and less pressure to be good for him. He has no notable statistical raises, while his turnover percentage, win shares per 48 minutes (a metric that estimates how many wins a player is worth per 48 minutes) and true shooting percentage (field goal percentage that takes into account free throws and three pointers) are all down. 

    His traditional numbers are fairly stable, with slight drops in scoring and rebounding. However, this seems a bit odd considering his usage rate is up, essentially meaning he had more opportunities to score this year than last. This points to a slight drop in performance on Bosh's part.

    Stoudemire's statistical regression has been more pronounced. His numbers are down in nearly every category. However, Stoudemire has more of an excuse than Bosh. He has fought injuries all year and has been the chief victim of Mike D'antoni's trend to run his starters into the ground. He also had to adjust to Jeremy Lin, and then readjust to Carmelo Anthony.

    Once the dust settled, he recovered from his injuries and overuse and started showing flashes of his old self towards the end of the year. When it was all said and done, his stats came out roughly similar to Bosh's. 

    When the two have played in the past, it's been pretty much even. Amar'e has slight edges in scoring, field goal percentage and blocks while Bosh has a decent lead in rebounds. 

    The key to this match up is which of the two can get high percentage shots. Amar'e has an advantage here because Tyson Chandler is the best rim protector in this series. 

    However, Bosh is always a recipient of open shots created by both Wade and James. It would take a strong performance from Stoudemire to top that, but at the surface this match up looks like a wash. Whichever way it swings will play a large part in determining the winner.

    Edge: Push

Center

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    Like shooting guard is for Miami, this is the match up where the Knicks have a big advantage.

    Neither Joel Anthony nor Tyson Chandler are particularly dangerous scoring threats. Though Chandler was the NBA's regular season field goal percentage leader, most of his points come off of dunks and put backs. The same goes for Anthony, just at a much lower rate. 

    The impact for both of these guys comes on defense. Let's start with Chandler. He is the likely defensive player of the year after transforming the entire culture of the Knicks organization. He took a team that was widely regarded as a joke defensively and made them a top 10 team in points allowed per game and top five in defensive efficiency. 

    What Chandler does isn't specific to guarding one player. Though he'll likely play a part in defending Chris Bosh, what he does best is protect the rim. Last year, we saw Chandler dominate the paint by keeping Wade and James away. That was how Dallas was able to beat the Heat. If Chandler can do the same in this series the Heat will really struggle for points. 

    Anthony does a lot of the same things, just on a smaller scale. He is one of the more underrated and under appreciated defenders in the league. 

    Miami's defensive scheme is predicated on gambling. Nobody causes more turnovers and creates more easy points than James and Wade, but what is lost in the shuffle is that a lot of their gambles don't pay up. At that point, their assignments have easy trips to the basket. It is Anthony's job to prevent them from scoring easy points, which he has done an excellent job of doing. 

    Given the lack of threat posed by Chandler, expect to see Miami use Anthony to guard Amar'e Stoudemire at least part of the time. Anthony isn't a lockdown man defender, but he should be effective at playing physically with Stoudemire. How well he does will determine how much of an impact Stoudemire has. 

    I really like Anthony as a role player, but in reality, he is simply a worse Tyson Chandler. Chandler is the better defender and rebounder, and at least poses a marginal offensive threat. That gives the Knicks a big edge in this match up.

    Edge: New York

Bench

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    This is New York's other big advantage in the series. The Knicks go 10 deep, whereas Miami's bench is redundant and inconsistent with undefined roles.

    The Heat rely on their bench to hit threes, because those are the easiest points their stars open up. However, outside of a resurgent Mike Miller, all of their bench players have regressed. Shane Battier is shooting a career low 34 percent from long range and defensively he simply looks old. Miami is counting on him to play big minutes in relief of James and Wade to lock down opponent scorers but he hasn't shown this season that he can do it.

    James Jones has also seen a big drop in his three point percentage (though he is still at a high level). However, he doesn't quite look as confident as he did last year. It seems like an after effect of being benched in the finals. Norris Cole is all over the place, he has the talent to be an NBA starter but often plays like he has no idea what's going on. 

    The only really dependable player on Miami's bench is Udonis Haslem, but he's not very well suited to guard Amar'e Stoudemire, which would be his primary job. Stoudemire has a big size advantage on him and has done well statistically when the two have matched up in the past. 

    Everyone on New York's bench has a clearly defined role and have been excellent this year. JR Smith is their instant offense guy. He comes in and tries to score, period. 

    Steve Novak is the exclusive three point shooter. He was the league's top shooter this year at an astonishing 47 percent from long range. He is the type of player Miami targets for their bench, but was found off of the scrap heap by the Knicks and has evolved into a better version of all of their shooters. 

    Jared Jeffries and Iman Shumpert are the defenders. Jeffries comes in and handles big men while Shumpert takes on the opponent's top guard. Jeffries has had a career renaissance since returning to the Knicks last year, his defensive rating, rebound percentage, true shooting percentage and block percentage are all up. 

    Even Toney Douglas has seen a recent resurgence. He hasn't been excellent by any means, but he can provide valuable minutes off the bench to spell Baron Davis. This serves a very important role because as long as Douglas is playing well, Mike Bibby is off of the court. 

    Miami's bench just feels old and oddly put together to me. I wouldn't feel comfortable having any of them guard Carmelo Anthony for any sort of extended period. The Knicks bench is more versatile and all together more talented. Benches don't mean quite as much in the playoffs, but they mean something, and the Knicks have the edge. 

    Edge: New York

Coaching

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    I've never made a secret of the fact that I don't like Erik Spoelstra as a coach. I think when you have as much talent as he does it should be impossible not to at least win your conference's regular season title. 

    I question his coaching ability for a number of reasons, but mainly I'm still confounded by the hot potato act between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The fact that they haven't figured out a consistent crunch time system has to fall on the coach. 

    That being said, I have to give credit where it's due. Wade and Chris Bosh both missed time this year and the Heat stayed near the top of the league. Maybe Spoelstra isn't Pat Riley, but he isn't completely awful either.

    Mike Woodson is a bit more perplexing. He has been excellent with the Knicks and if he keeps this up he has the clear coaching edge. However, his record with Atlanta isn't exactly perfect.

    By the end of his stay the players clearly wanted him gone, the Knicks have to worry about Woodson long term, you can't lose your players in this league. Right now I'd give him the edge over Spoelstra, but there are long term worries.

    Woodson has never made it past round two while Spoelstra made it to the finals last year. I liked Woodson a bit more, but that experience will benefit Spoelstra. Overall I'll give it a push, but I think in the end one of these guys is gonna push the right buttons and distinguish himself from the others.

    Edge: push

Team Defense

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    One of the bigger edges the Heat have in this series is team defense. The Heat are one of the league's two top defensive teams (along with the Bulls).

    They are fourth in both points per game allowed and defensive efficiency, and neither is their speciality. What the Heat do best on defense is generate turnovers and create easy points.

    They can do this because nobody can match the athleticism of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Once they get the ball and get into a fast break nobody can defend both of them, meaning they almost always end up with at least two points (and possibly three on a foul). 

    Don't discard the Knicks defense though. They are 10th in points per game allowed and fifth in defensive efficiency. Mike Woodson is known as a defensive guru, and probably has a few tricks up his sleeve for Miami's stars. 

    What the Knicks have to do to keep Miami from scoring easy points is dictate the pace of the game. If they get into a track meet with the Heat they'll have a hard time keeping up. On offense, the Knicks should emphasize isolation, giving Miami less chances to steal the ball. If they can keep the game slow and make it a one-on-one duel between Anthony and James, the Knicks have a chance.

    Miami gets the edge here because of their statistical advantage in nearly every category, but this isn't some wide chasm. The Knicks are closer on defense then you think. 

    Edge: Miami

Intangibles

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    Time to address the elephant in the room. Before getting into things like home court advantage and playoff experience, we have to have the obligatory clutch discussion. Before we get into numbers, keep in mind that statistically clutch is defined as "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points".

    Miami is criticized by everyone for not being a clutch team, and those criticisms are right on. Clutch teams win close games against their biggest competitors. For Miami, those teams are Chicago and Boston. Ignoring tuesday's game, Miami had a stretch dating back to mid March where they went 1-4 against those teams.

    As big of a deal as this is on its' own, it's even bigger when you factor in injuries. Chicago was without Derrick Rose for both losses, and Boston was without Ray Allen for one of their games. Miami had several chances to make statements against their biggest rivals and couldn't do it, costing themselves home court advantage throughout the playoffs. 

    Now let's look at individuals. LeBron James is statistically the league's 17th best crunch time scorer, wedged nicely between Anthony Morrow and Jarret Jack. His field goal percentage dips to just below 39% in crunch time. Dwyane Wade is even worse, his percentage falls to below 38 percent and he is ranked 30th.

    What is most concerning though is their drop in free throw percentage. James drops to 68 percent while Wade drops to 64 percent. Free throws have been proven to be the most psychologically driven shot in basketball, because players have time to think that they wouldn't on a field goal. This drop signals that James and Wade actually feel the pressure of the moment and get tight.  

    New York on the other hand has Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is statistically the third best crunch time scorer in the league. He is consistently ranked near the top of the crunch time rankings every year. The Knicks should feel far more comfortable at the end of games with Anthony than Miami should with James or Wade. 

    Combined playoff experience is a wash. Though James and Wade have been to the finals multiple times, the Knicks have their share of experience as well. Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler and Davis have all played deep into the playoffs before. The one worry for the Knicks is their younger guys like Shumpert and Fields. 

    Though the Heat have home court advantage, the Knicks should actually feel much better about their crowd. Miami fans are notorious for coming to games late and not exactly being the loudest group. That will only be amplified in the playoffs when tickets become more expensive and the die hard fans are phased out for the trendier rich fans who just want to say they were there. Playoff games in Miami don't exactly put the fear of god into opponents, they're just a step above neutral site games. 

    Madison Square Garden on the other hand, will have a raucous crowd for games three, four and six. The Knicks haven't been this good in over a decade, so the fans (who are among the loudest in the league anyway) will be going nuts. Given their crunch time issues, playing close games at The Garden with that crowd can't be too exciting for the Knicks. If it comes down to the last few minutes in New York, the Knicks will have a huge advantage. The same cannot be said for the Heat in Miami. 

    I know you can't exactly measure intangibles, but you can at least size up where each team stands. This one is clear, the Knicks have the edge. 

    Edge: New York

Prediction

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    If I'm being totally honest with myself, I think the Heat probably win this one in six or seven. It's just so hard to believe they could lose in round one. 

    But you know what? Screw logic. This series is close enough for me to make a homer pick. And besides, if I'm right I get to call myself a genius, if I'm wrong, nobody remembers. 

    Pick: Knicks in six.