NY Knicks Finally Ready to Challenge Heat for Eastern Conference Supremacy

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 02: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks gestures to Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Miami Heat may be the defending champions, but they have a worthy opponent in this season's New York Knicks.

The Knicks have fully bought into coach Mike Woodson's hard-nosed and disciplined defensive system, and will take on any team in their path with a complete and balanced effort.

New York is currently the best team in the Eastern Conference with a 13-4 record, just half a game ahead of Miami.

Everyone is playing well, there is no team infighting, and team chemistry is the best it has been since the 1990s.

Thus, the Heat better watch out.

Entering Thursday's game against Miami, New York is ranked fourth in points scored with 102.7 per game, and eighth in points allowed at 94.9.

This is a different team than the Heat have known since the formation of their Big Three two years ago, and the numbers say it all.

Carmelo Anthony has settled into his role as team star and leader, playing well on both sides of the floor. He currently ranks third in the NBA with 26.4 points per game, and is also averaging 6.7 rebounds. Anthony has also been a deadly three-point threat, shooting 43.5 percent from downtown.

Anthony stepping up as the Knicks' go-to guy is all good and well, but the best part is that the team doesn't completely fall apart if he is having an off night.

Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith have all done a fine job stepping up on offense with Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert injured, and the Knicks have thus managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, the Miami Heat's days of Eastern Conference dominance will soon be coming to a close. Last year's championship aside, the team's offense is still highly predictable.

From the opening tip until the final buzzer, head coach Erik Spoelstra relies on LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to play a fast-paced offense and overwhelm the opposition into submission.

When the stars are not playing, he looks to Ray Allen and the rest of the second unit to shoot the lights out. As a result, Miami ranks second in points scored with 104.4, but 21st in points allowed at 99.9.

Miami's lack of focus on defense doesn't stop there. The team is also ranked second-to-last in rebounding, ahead of only the slumping Boston Celtics.

This lack of commitment to defense, particularly in the paint, has already come back to bite the Heat this season.

Of the team's four losses, three are against teams with elite defenders at center. Miami's most recent loss was one to the lowly Washington Wizards on December 4, and James was nonchalant about the end result. James said:

Nah, man, there's no lesson. This ain't a lesson for us. We just lost. We've seen and been through everything, so we don't need a loss to be like, 'Oh, let's catch ourselves.' It happens.

Miami's complete and utter disregard for a bad loss is what gives the Knicks the ultimate advantage not just in tonight's game, but in the Eastern Conference as a whole.

Had it been New York who lost to the Wizards, Woodson would have been furious and held everyone accountable. He would have stated everything that went wrong and made the guilty parties take responsibility.

This is the attitude that every NBA team should have, and should maintain this approach all the time. Miami instead has a sense of entitlement now that its deadly trio has won a championship, and thus gets cocky against inferior teams like the Wizards.

Well, now they know what happens when that attitude is embraced.

The fact of the matter is that the New York Knicks now have the type of team that can beat Miami.

They already destroyed them to open the season, and they need to be the same aggressive and cohesive unit tonight that they were on November 2.

Having Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd on the roster—both of whom were on the 2011 Dallas Mavericks team that defeated Miami in the NBA Finals—is just the icing on the cake.

The Heat may have been better in recent years, but their time is up.

Anthony is ready to step into the spotlight, and he will shine bright now that Miami appears to be on autopilot.

Come playoff time, that will come back to bite Miami. The Heat will feel it even more once the Knicks establish themselves as the best of the Eastern Conference—both this season, and for many years to come.