The rivalry to end all rivalries goes down tonight when the New York Knicks visit the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Miami came to New York on November 2, shortly after Hurricane Sandy, and the Knicks rolled to an emotional 104-84 victory thanks to tough defense and 53 percent three-point shooting.
Entering today, New York is 13-4 and half a game ahead of Miami for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The first meeting between the two was just one of four games these two teams will play against each other this season, and Miami will be looking for revenge tonight. The game is on their home court, where they have gone 8-0 on the season. The Heat will be looking to dominate New York like they have in recent years, overwhelming them on offense and forcing them to take contested shots.
That approach won't be easy this time, as the Knicks are a new-look team committed to defense. Even after a gutsy win against the Charlotte Bobcats on December 5, they will enter Miami with no rust and a winning attitude.
On Miami's end, that could spell trouble.
Time: Thursday, December 6th, 8 p.m. EST
Records: New York Knicks (13-4) vs. Miami Heat (12-4)
Betting Lines: New York (+7), Miami (-7), via Bovada
Injuries: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), Carmelo Anthony (finger, questionable), Mario Chalmers (finger, out), Shane Battier (knee, probable), Norris Cole (groin, expected to play), Udonis Haslem (hip, questionable)
Key Storyline: Can Knicks Best Miami on the Road?
The Knicks did indeed trounce Miami to start the season, but that was at Madison Square Garden. On top of that, it was shortly after Hurricane Sandy, and the team rallied together in a game in which Miami didn't seem completely invested.
New York must face the Heat in South Beach this time, and coming away with a win will be an uphill battle. Miami has yet to lose at home this season and will fight tooth and nail to get a victory against one of their most-hated rivals. Even if they are dealing with some injury issues now, the Heat will stop at nothing to win any and all games.
Unfortunately for Miami, this is not the same Knicks team that they have dominated over the past two seasons. New York is playing some fine basketball under head coach Mike Woodson and currently ranks fourth in points scored at 102.7 per game and eighth in points allowed at 94.9 per game.
Miami has not been so lucky on defense, ranking 21st in points allowed at 99.9 per game and second to last in rebounding.
Much of how this game pans out will also depend on the status of Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, who lacerated his finger against the Bobcats. It is unknown if he will suit up tonight.
Whether he plays or not, one thing is certain. The Knicks will do all they can to end Miami's perfect home record, and the Heat will do the same to defend it.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Chris Bosh
The Miami Heat have one notable flaw. Against teams with superior size in the paint, they often struggle. In fact, three of their four losses this season have come against teams with dominant centers: the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
This is because their center, Chris Bosh, is more of a scoring power forward than a natural center. He is averaging 19.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season and has both the height and length at 6'11", 235 pounds to play the 5.
However, unlike most true centers, Bosh likes to utilize his jump shot and not be fully committed to the paint. His opponent tonight, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, is the opposite type. He works almost exclusively under the basket and has superior height and length at 7'1", 240 pounds.
On the season, Chandler is averaging 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He is also leading the league in field-goal percentage, having made an astounding 72 percent of his attempts.
It is vitally important that Chandler force Bosh to stay in the paint tonight. By taking his jumper out of the equation, the Heat lose a key piece of their offense and are forced to play the Knicks' game. This means balancing their attack and not relying solely on the Big Three to overwhelm New York with offense.
Bosh has played well as of late, averaging 18.6 points and 10.2 rebounds over his last five games, but he was not matched up against an elite big man in any of them. If he cannot overcome Chandler tonight, then Miami's home record will be in jeopardy, as will their potential future performances against the Knicks.
X-Factors: Ray Allen & J.R. Smith
If Carmelo Anthony does not suit up tonight, it is likely that J.R. Smith will become the Knicks' go-to guy on offense. He sunk the game-winning jumper in Charlotte and has averaged 13.5 points off the bench while shooting 40 percent from long range.
The past five games, however, have not been kind to Smith. He has averaged just 8.8 points and shot just 36 percent from the field, including an abysmal 18 percent from long range. This could be an issue not only because of Anthony's uncertain status for the game, but also because of how great a role three-point shooting played in New York's victory over Miami on opening night.
Granted, Smith is not the only shooter the Knicks have, but him performing well is critical if New York is to even have a shot at winning tonight.
On Miami's end, it's going to be all about keeping up with the Knicks in the three-point department. They shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc on November 2 but currently rank second in the NBA in three-point shooting.
Thus, veteran shooter and future Hall of Famer Ray Allen must be in top form tonight. As the Heat's sixth man, Allen is averaging 13.2 points and shooting an incredible 50 percent from long range. If he can get into a groove and the Knicks are short-handed, Miami's odds of winning heavily increase.
He is the all-time leader in three-pointers made and has already made some clutch threes for Miami this season, so this should be second nature to him.
The Knicks may have dominated the Heat in their season opener, but that's not going to be the case tonight. Anthony's uncertain status and Miami's home-court advantage make this game one in which the defending champions will walk away as the victors.
That isn't to say that the game will be an absolute blowout. The Knicks are deeply talented and will keep this game close until the bitter end, with or without their star player.
Who will win?
Once the final minutes of the fourth quarter roll around, it's going to be Miami who makes the important shots, both in the paint and beyond the arc. LeBron James will have another fine game and come close to a triple-double. Ray Allen will be the Heat's savior in the second half and sink three-pointers from every spot possible.
New York will put up a respectable effort, as Tyson Chandler wins the battle in the paint with Chris Bosh and Raymond Felton builds off of his 17-point, nine-assist night against Charlotte. At some points, they may even have and maintain a lead.
Unfortunately for them, Miami will be in full-on defend-the-house mode. This means that at the final buzzer, they will emerge victorious in what will be an absolute dogfight of a game.
Miami Heat 101, New York Knicks 96