Five Reasons NY Knicks Are Not a Real Threat to Miami Heat in 2012-13
There have been more ideal times for this analysis.
Of course, Miami has made no secret of its difficulty generating enthusiasm to face the league's lesser lights, and the Knicks certainly do not qualify as such, not with their 12-4 record entering Wednesday night, and not after their 104-84 rout of the Heat on Nov. 2.
So, on Thursday, there will be no issues getting energized.
"It will be electrifying in our arena," LeBron James said. "We know that."
Knowing that the Heat will care to compete Thursday, for a TNT audience against a quality opponent (and knowing that the Heat will care even more when the playoffs mercifully come around) what kind of competition will they find across the court in the Knicks?
Is New York a significantly greater obstacle than it was last postseason, when the Heat advanced in five games against a squad that has since added Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas?
Or are the Knicks merely a speed bump on the Heat's way to a third straight Eastern Conference title?
Bet on the latter.
Here are five reasons why Mike Woodson's team won't be much trouble when it matters.
(All quotes were compiled during the course of the author's coverage for The Palm Beach Post. All statistics were updated prior to Wednesday's play.)
5. Unlike the Knicks, All the Heat's Pieces Now Fit
During the summer of 2010, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire were the most accomplished big men on the market.
The Heat secured Bosh's services.
The Knicks, needing a centerpiece for the franchise after LeBron James spurned them for Miami, anointed Amare Stoudemire their latest savior, and that looked rather good in the early days, as the Madison Square Garden crowd serenaded him with "MVP" chants.
Then the Knicks went all-in for Carmelo Anthony and while Bosh kept finding better ways to blend with James and Dwyane Wade, Stoudemire started to appear all mixed up, a condition that only worsened after the arrival of Tyson Chandler. The Knicks are 31-40 when Anthony and Stoudemire have started together in the frontcourt.
This hasn't been an issue with Stoudemire sidelined with another knee injury, which has allowed Anthony to move to power forward, and given the Knicks a chance to space the floor in much the way the Heat do. But Stoudemire is due back around Christmas, and even if he accepts a switch to the bench as some reports suggest, he's likely to often be on the floor at the finish.
That either takes out Chandler, by far New York's best interior defender, or forces Anthony to go back to small forward, where he's a bit easier to control.
More than anything, it creates confusion, in terms of how the Knicks will play. Miami has no such quandary on the offensive end, not anymore, not after Wade and James learned to stop stepping over each other, and Bosh figured out that he needed to move without the ball, without the benefit of many called plays.
The Heat knows what they are, with Ray Allen fitting seamlessly into their offensive flow. The Knicks will be forced to keep figuring that out.
That's advantage Miami.
4. With Older Roster, Knicks Not Quick Enough
New York City agrees with Raymond Felton.
He's still not the league's fittest point guard, but he's apparently a good fit for the Knicks, regardless of who is coaching them. So far, he's posting statistics similar to what he produced after New York signed him, and far superior to his subpar work while plodding through a season in Portland.
Still, he's not quite Chris Paul or Tony Parker or Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose or even Mike Conley, which means that even these Heat, who have struggled to corral point guards at the point of attack, can handle him. And there's no other point guard on the Knicks' roster, certainly not 39-year-old Jason Kidd, who can exploit that Heat weakness.
The Heat certainly qualify as grizzled team, with seven of their top 11 players in their 30s, the only exceptions being LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Still, the Knicks are even older, the oldest overall team in NBA history.
That means two things:
First, there's no way to count on the likes of Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby being healthy and frisky enough to remain factors much later in the season.
Second, the Knicks (unlike, say, the Thunder) are not built to beat the Heat at their own best game, up and down in transition. If Miami is able to create an open-court contest, the Knicks will find it a challenge to keep up consistently.
Experience is valuable in the postseason, and the Knicks have that in abundance. They do not, however, have enough speed or skill at this stage to truly scare Miami.
3. Miami's Defensive Ceiling Is Higher
You'll have to take our word for this...or else get some tape of last season.
The Heat are capable of being one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Again, that wasn't evident against the Wizards, who had only topped triple-digits in one regulation contest before scoring 105 points on 31 assists against Miami.
Nor was it was evident when the Knicks made 19-of-36 shots from deep, almost invariably while unguarded, in the first meeting of the season between the teams. And, in truth, it hasn't been evident in most games this season, with two notable smothering exceptions against the Nets.
Still, you should know it's in there somewhere. There's simply too great a track record, during the Pat Riley regime, under Erik Spoelstra's leadership, and especially with LeBron James on the floor, to believe that Miami will be marginal defensively forever.
Also, for as much credit as the Knicks have gotten for tightening up this season, the reality is that Miami entered Tuesday's play forcing opponents to shoot lower percentages from two-point and three-point range than the Knicks' opponents were shooting. Those are the statistics that matter, as opposed to points per game, a number skewed by pace elements.
Without question, New York has benefited from Mike Woodson's defensive emphasis. And there's no doubt that Tyson Chandler gives them an interior toughness they had lacked since Riley was stalking the sideline for them, and rolling out a lineup of Ewing, Oakley and Mason.
Still, can they shut down teams when it counts the most, the way the Heat did during its championship run? That remains an unknown and, until we see it, better to bet on a proven quantity, and assume that Miami will put a halt to its uncharacteristic defensive lapses.
2. More Shot Creators Reside in Miami
There will be some issues, as noted earlier, when Amare Stoudemire returns.
But say this for STAT, as he calls himself...he's a proven, efficient NBA scorer when healthy.
In his absence, Carmelo Anthony carries more of the offensive load, which is a burden he willingly accepts. His scoring average of 26.6 is nearly the same as the next two Knicks combined, with Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith combining for 28.7.
Teams can win that way, and the Knicks certainly have so far, especially with Tyson Chandler playing over his head offensively (12.2 points on an absurd 71.2 percent from the floor) and Steve Novak and Jason Kidd connecting from deep at 43 and 50 percent clips, respectively.
Still, those last three players are recipients of offensive energy, not creators of it, and neither Felton nor the traditionally erratic Smith compare favorably to Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in that area.
This makes the Knicks dependent on Anthony for scoring in a way that the Heat is not as reliant upon LeBron James, and makes them less likely to survive one of his poorer performances. Provided that Wade continues progressing from a health perspective, he's still capable of a 30-point night, and Bosh has already exploded for 40 once this season.
Stoudemire once produced those sort of numbers with semi-regularity, but he's not in Phoenix anymore, flashing to the basket on pick-and-rolls in a "seven seconds or less" scheme; Mike D'Antoni is now coaching the Lakers. Last season, he was often standing on the court watching Anthony isolate. This season, he's been sitting down in street clothes.
Unless he steps in and then steps back in time, it's hard to see the Knicks approaching the Heat's offensive firepower, especially on the days the threes aren't going down.
1. The Heat's Star Shines Much Brighter
They have been linked for longer than a decade, since LeBron James led St. Vincent St. Mary's against Carmelo Anthony and Oak Hill, since they entered the draft together, since they became the faces of teams in Cleveland and Denver.
But other than the position they played, when James actually played a single position, the two have never really been all that comparable.
Anthony is an elite scorer, for sure, but he's not especially proficient in any other area, especially when compared to the Heat's three-time NBA. For all the talk about how Anthony has upgraded his all-around game, that chatter doesn't correlate to the statistics, not even offensively.
Yes, Anthony has improved his shooting percentage from .430 last season to .464 this season, largely due to his enormous (and probably unsustainable) improvement from behind the arc, from .335 last season and .327 in his career to .435. Yes, his rebounds are up slightly, from 6.3 last season to 6.9 in this one.
But, no, he's not exactly changing his modus operandi.
The man rather enjoys shooting. A lot. His shots per game are up from last season, and his assists are down, all the way to 2.1 per contest, which would be a career low.
James will accrue as many assists in a game that Anthony might in a couple of weeks.
Simply, James has countless ways to beat you, with his scoring just part of the package.
He's about value, and adding it to every area of his team's play.
Anthony is about volume.
Sometimes, that is sufficient, as it was when Anthony shot just 10-of-28 (35.7 percent) and added 10 rebounds in New York's romp in November, a game for which the Knicks drew strength from a crowd that had weathered Superstorm Sandy.
In seven games last season against the Heat, including the playoffs, Anthony averaged 28.7 points on 42.7 shooting, and he was 1-6.
As Dwyane Wade put it, "A guy who can shoot as many shots as Carmelo, you’re not going to shut him down. He has so much talent, inside, outside, he’s going to score. He can get 30. But it’s how he gets it for us that’s the key."
It's also about whether he gets anything else.
Because if he doesn't, against James and the Heat, that will usually get him beat.