The Miami Heat and New York Knicks are two very different teams with a common goal.
Both squads aspire to win the NBA title now, not later. For the Heat, they look to lay claim to their second consecutive championship, while the Knicks are simply hoping to end a 40-year drought.
Despite similar ambitions, however, these two bands of athletes are anything but the same.
Miami is built upon an overwhelming substance of star power while New York's potential success is predicated on veteran-stocked depth.
Structural differences aside, though, both factions are off to incredible starts to the 2012-13 crusade. LeBron James and company, for the most part, have picked up where they left off last season, while Carmelo Anthony and crew continue to shock the masses.
And yet, we are still left wondering—to a point—which team's recipe for success is the more promising concoction?
Miami stands alone as the reigning NBA champs, but both rosters differ significantly from a year ago, leaving us to re-open the door on which basketball outfit has the ultimate edge.
Stats in this article are accurate as of December 4th, 2012.
Ironically enough, both Miami and New York's starting point guards are nursing hand injuries.
The Heat's Mario Chalmers bent his left index finger and was forced to leave in a recent game against the Washington Wizards, while Knicks point man Raymond Felton suffered a bone bruise to his left hand in a win over the Phoenix Suns.
Injuries aside, however, both floor generals are not especially similar in their methods of attack.
With LeBron James serving as an essential point-everything, Chalmers is used as more of spot-up shooter off his and Dwyane Wade's dribble penetration. Currently, 50 percent of all his field-goal attempts come outside of 16 feet.
It's also worth noting that Chalmers is attempting just six shots and averaging just 6.4 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting from the floor. He's connecting on just 31.6 percent of his three-point attempts as well.
Felton, on the other hand, has an unconditional green light.
Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony has not hindered his penchant for scoring. He's attempting 14.4 shots and averaging 15.1 points point per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from downtown.
Unlike Chalmers, Felton is also considered his team's primary playmaker, which has allowed him to dish out 6.8 assists to go along with his impressive point-totals.
Though Felton is nowhere near as stout a defender as Chalmers, he has taken his game new heights this season while Chalmers has regressed significantly, leaving us no choice but to favor the Knicks in this particular matchup.
Dwyane Wade's production has tapered off quite a bit this year, but he remains one of the NBA's most talented shooting guards.
As has become the norm, Wade continues to battle any number of injuries and he's already missed three games in the early goings of the 2012-13 campaign.
Still, Wade continues to average a cool 19.8 points and 4.8 assists on an efficient 48.8 percent shooting.
His defensive awareness remains completely intact as he continues showcase his talents as the best shot-blocking guard in the league. His 1.3 steals are also a blunt indication of his defensive aggression as well.
To combat Wade, the Knicks have the 39-year-old Jason Kidd.
With Iman Shumpert still on the shelf and J.R. Smith best served coming off the bench, Kidd has found himself thrust into the starting lineup. Back issues may force him play off the pine for awhile, but make no mistake, he's New York's starting shooting guard.
Entering his 19th season in the NBA, Kidd wasn't expected to contribute much. By now, however, it's become clear he's an integral part of what the Knicks have to offer.
Kidd is averaging eight points, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game on 51.8 percent from the floor. He's also converting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts. Considering that he's playing out of position and 78.7 percent of his shot attempts are coming from behind the rainbow, that's more than impressive.
But not to the point where he stands a chance at outshining Wade. Ever.
Shane Battier continues to nurse a sore knee and the Heat continue to miss his defensive presence.
Battier isn't an exceptional athlete, nor are his contributions likely to be reflected in every box score, yet he's a necessity for Miami.
The small forward remains one of the most impenetrable and calculated perimeter defenders in the game. His anticipation is unmatchable and he's aggressive enough to body up and defend in the post when called upon.
Battier is also a lethal long range threat, making him of further use to a team that boasts perpetual slashers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Prior to his injury, in fact, he was connecting on a career-best 45.8 percent of his three-pointers.
Not unlike Battier, Ronnie Brewer has assumed a similar role for the Knicks.
Brewer is easily more athletic than the physically challenged Battier, but he doesn't rely on it the way most would. He exudes the same defensive toughness it takes to be established as savant on that side of the ball.
Again, like his counterpart, Brewer is not known for his scoring—the mechanics of his jump shot are frighteningly ugly—but he is a distance threat. He too is shooting a career-best 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
When it comes to two players who are so similar in their priorities and roles, it's difficult to establish a clear victor in this individual matchup. Even their point-totals are near identical with Battier dropping seven points a night to Brewer's 7.1.
Thus, on any given night, depending on whose hot, either team could have the advantage. As far as fact goes, though, this one's a deadlock.
Let the battle of who's better at playing out of position begin.
Both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are having admirable starts to the year. James remains a favorite to repeat as the league MVP while 'Melo has garnered some MVP talk of his own.
More troubling a notion than ever this season is where exactly the Heat would be without James. He leads Miami in points (24.8), rebounds (9.1) and assists (6.8) per game. He's also shooting 53 percent from the floor and a career-best 43.2 percent clip from long range.
Most thought it wasn't possible, but LeBron has become even more of a formidable player. His jump shot has never been more lethal and he's even made a concerted effort to reduce his number of turnovers.
Just 10.6 percent of the Chosen One's possessions end in cough-ups, the best mark of his illustrious career.
Despite James' continued dominance, there is much to be said of 'Melo as well.
Anthony is averaging 26.6 points per bout, the second-most in the league behind Kobe Bryant, to go along with 6.9 rebounds and 46.4 percent shooting. He's also hitting on a career-best 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Somehow moving to the power forward position has transformed Anthony into a deep-ball extraordinaire. He's never attempted more three-points a night, yet his percentage has never been higher.
As epic as the battles have been between these two in the past, though, Anthony still barely holds a candle to James. Yes, 'Melo has emerged as a vocal leader and viable two-way presence, but no one in this league is better than LeBron.
Not even the picture-perfect version of Anthony.
Chris Bosh's value to the Heat is no longer overlooked.
The power forward turned center is easily having his best season since taking his oft-neglected talents to South Beach.
Bosh is averaging 19.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on a career-best 56 percent shooting.
His defense has improved by leaps and bounds, as he has made interior adjustments that allow him to defend bigger and stronger foes; he's swatting away 1.3 shots a night, the second-best mark of his career.
For much of the season, Bosh was the Heat's second-leading scorer. He has proved to be a source of two-way certainty while providing his team with a versatile scorer who has the advantage over most centers.
Like Bosh, though, Tyson Chandler's importance to the Knicks has never been more evident.
He has been a big part of their defensive success; New York now finds itself in the top 10 of defensive efficiency.
Rarely considered a scoring threat, Chandler has made the most of point-blank looks, cutting pick-and-rolls and put-backs He's averaging a career-high 12.2 points per game and leads the league with a 71.3 percent field-goal percentage.
Despite Chandler's career-setting pace, though, one would argue Bosh has the clear edge.
Except he doesn't.
Bosh scores in a variety of ways that Chandler isn't used to defending, but the beauty of New York's center is he adjusts. He'll be able to keep Bosh in check in nearly every matchup.
To further the cause, it must be noted that the Knicks are posting a plus-11.9 with Chandler on the floor per 48 minutes compared to the Heat's plus-7.5 with Bosh.
This one's close, but the Knicks have a sleeper's edge in Chandler.
This one really shouldn't be close, but it is.
Ray Allen is having more of an impact on the Heat's offense than most could of imagined.
The 37-year-old shooting guard is averaging 13.2 points on 50 percent shooting overall and from long distance as well. He's already hit a multitude of game-winning shots and the Heat are posting a plus-50 with him during crunch time.
All for the bargain price of just over $3 million annually.
But New York's J.R. Smith has proved to be a bargain as well. The once erratic shooting guard has suddenly become a source of two-way continuity.
Smith is averaging 14.7 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting from the field. He's also converting on a career-best 45.7 percent of his three-point attempts in addition to amping up his playmaking abilities (three assists per contest) as well.
Defensively, Smith has the clear edge over Allen. The Knicks are also posting a plus-4.1 per 48 minutes with Smith on the floor compared to the Heat's mark of plus-0.3 with Allen.
That said, sometimes, especially when talking about a sixth-man, you have to take into account who can hit the biggest shots.
And in this case, that's easily Allen.
For the past two seasons, the Heat have been known for their star power, not their bench depth.
That said, Miami's bench has been a much improved bunch compared to last season.
The Heat's reserves are averaging 30.2 points combined per contest and shooting 46.8 percent from the field, the third-most efficient mark of any bench in the league.
New York, however, is clearly the deeper entity.
The Knicks' bench is totaling a combined 35.7 pointers per game, the 10th-most in the league and have emerged as a backup entity that head coach Mike Woodson is not afraid to rely on.
Steve Novak and Rasheed Wallace provide instant offense that the Heat's pine doesn't boast outside of Ray Allen, and Pablo Prigioni gives New York a superior playmaker that Norris Cole is not yet polished enough to match.
Yes, the Knicks are old—the oldest team in NBA history, in fact—but they possess one of the most potent benches in the league nonetheless.
Which is something the Heat cannot yet lay claim to.
Speaking of tough decisions, the matchup between Mike Woodson and Erik Spoelstra is a worthy one to consider as well.
Spoelstra has a unique way of dealing with his star-studded roster. He won't try and butt heads with LeBron James or Dwyane, instead preferring to rely on them to work things out themselves and play the way they see fit.
This is something many people dismiss or deem easy, but it's not. Coaching stars never is.
Sure, Spoelstra doesn't always manage minutes well, but let's not assume he is uninvolved in the progress of his stars and his team.
He himself admitted that he revamped the Heat's offensive system to play to LeBron's strengths after the Heat fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Judging by the championship ring both he and James are now donning, it worked.
But is that enough to overshadow the accomplishments of Woodson?
Woodson hasn't won a title with the Knicks, but he has been the structural presence the team so sorely needed.
Unlike the Heat, the Knicks do not have the kind of players you can expect to "coach" themselves. Instead, stars like Carmelo Anthony and players like Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith, among others need to be exposed to a powerful will.
Woodson possesses that will. He has led the Knicks to their best start in nearly 20 years and if there was an early-on Coach of the Year award, he would certainly be a part of the conversation.
More so than Spoelstra.
Both the Heat and Knicks are much improved entities, but after scraping through all the matchups and dynamics of either aggregations, it becomes clear that Miami has the stronger team.
Obviously, LeBron James is one of the primary reasons why. His potential to win a game on his own is not to be discounted, nor is the sheer fact that he far exceeds the abilities of the Knicks' best player in Carmelo Anthony.
Aside from James, though, the Heat also have Dwyane Wade and a proven winner in Ray Allen to anchor in their offense. New York, in all it's depth, doesn't have enough to combat such accomplished individual potency while also keeping Chris Bosh in check.
Should Amar'e Stoudemire come back from injury and return to All-Star form, and Iman Shumpert re-establish himself as one of the league's best defenders, the Knicks' dynamic changes for the better. The case could even be made then that they're a more formidable company than the Heat.
But right now, looking at these two teams, it's clear that, however slightly, Miami has the ultimate edge.
Which is something we shouldn't expect the Knicks to stomach without a fight.
We're in for one hell of a season-long war between these two powerhouses.
Overall Advantage: Heat