Through the entire 2012-13 season thus far, there has been no shortage of shuffling through the Eastern Conference standings. At the top, however, two mainstays have looked down upon the rest: the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks.
The Knicks have cooled since their sizzling start, but still hold down the second seed in the East, with only Miami's taillights one game in front of them.
In two matchups this year, Miami hasn't stood a chance against the re-tooled Knicks. Both games turned out to be 20-point thrashings, the most recent of which occurring with Carmelo Anthony sidelined with a hand injury.
The two Eastern Conference powerhouses rank almost identically in several key areas, but there's reason to believe this Knicks unit can upset the defending champs in a potential late-round playoff series.
All stats used are accurate as of games entering Jan. 13.
Felton, Kidd and Prigioni have ran the show beautifully for New York.
Prior to Raymond Felton's injury, the Knicks often strutted out dual-point guard lineups on the regular. It was the key to their offensive flow, and responsible for their incredible cohesion and chemistry on that end.
With Felton sidelined, their attack has been altered, and Mike Woodson's team has surrendered a number of losses as the consequence. Once Felton returns (in approximately two weeks, according to Newsday), expect the Knicks to regain form on offense.
The three-headed monster of Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni is capable of out-playing Miami's quarterbacking corps of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.
In 26 minutes per game, Chalmers averages 7.5 points per game to go along with 3.5 assists. Cole's line looks like 4.6 points and two assists in just under 19 minutes.
Chalmers' primary weapon is his three-point shooting—he's knocked down treys at a 40-percent clip thus far. After a flashy start to his career, Cole has found sustaining NBA success to be difficult. His PER of 5.7 is the lowest on Miami.
For New York, Felton managed to drop 16 points per game and dish out over six assists in 33.7 minutes per contest. Kidd has drilled 43-percent of his three-pointers—mostly in a off-guard role—and led the offense by wisely directing traffic.
Prigioni has brought some of his overseas success to the Big Apple, namely by knocking down pretty shots on occasion, but more often dishing out surgically-precise passes to his Knicks teammates.
Chandler has stepped up his rebounding this season.
The Knicks cannot claim that they out-rebound many teams, but the Heat happen to be one of them. Miami ranks dead last in total rebounds, while New York comes in at 27th.
While the Heat don't have a marquis rebounder on their roster (if you discount basketball cyborg LeBron James), the same cannot be said about the Knicks. Center Tyson Chandler is hauling down 10.8 boards per game—averaging double-digit rebounds for the first time since 2007-08.
In his last 25 games, Chandler is averaging over 12 rebounds and 13 points per. He's hitting the offensive glass especially hard, sporting a career-high 15.3 ORB%. His TRB% of 18.94 ranks him eighth league-wide.
LeBron James leads Miami's rebounding with 8.3 per matchup, edging Chris Bosh at center, who comes down with just 7.4 per game. They've out-rebounded opponents just eight times in 2012-13.
It's the simplest of stats: When playing each other this season, the Knicks have two wins and Miami has none.
And it hasn't even been close. In New York's season-opener at Madison Square Garden, it used an incredible display of ball movement and lock-down defense to manhandle the defending champs.
The teams' meeting in Miami on Dec. 6 was anticipated to be a laugher. But the Knicks, sans Carmelo Anthony, found a way to win yet again. Their masterful shooting from long-range—they sank 18 from downtown—paved the road to a 112-92 swamping in South Beach.
The Eastern leaders don't face off again until March, but count on New York fans heading into the final two regular season matchups with boatloads of confidence.
The Knicks bench will certainly help them in battles with Miami.
At the top, the Knicks can boast incredible talent in MVP-candidate Carmelo Anthony. However, the Heat are led by unprecedented star power in their starting lineup to counteract the 'Melo Effect. What the Heat are unable to match though, is the Knicks' 15-man depth.
Led by Sixth Man of the Year candidate J.R. Smith and former All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks' second team is capable of changing the direction of any game.
On the Miami side, Ray Allen is a future Hall of Famer and legendary shooter, but isn't the scorer J.R. Smith is at this stage of his career. Mike Miller, Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony just can't provide the impact that the Knicks' reserves are capable of providing.
Steve Novak is third league-wide in three-point shooting percentage at .449. Smith is averaging 17 points per game, which ranks eighth among all qualified shooting guards. Pablo Prigioni provides impeccable playmaking ability that some teams lack in their starting fives, and Rasheed Wallace, when healthy, has brought more to the table than anyone could've expected preseason.
Once Amar'e Stoudemire gets his legs underneath him on the MSG hardwood, expect him to make the sort of effect we've seen from J.R. Smith.
The Heat's first team may bring the fire, but the Knicks' reserves are good enough to neutralize the Big Three's supremacy.
Led by Kidd, the Knicks have done a great job of valuing the ball.
Even through the Knicks' recent struggles, they have thrived at valuing each possession. They've committed a league-low 401 turnovers through 36 games, or just over 11 per contest.
Their South Beach counterparts are no slouches either in that department, averaging 13.8 per game—third best in the NBA.
Although it's a small one, the Knicks do have the edge in the giveaway category. LeBron James loses it at a rate of 2.9 per game, compared to Carmelo Anthony's 2.5. More accurately, James' TOV% (number of turnovers committed per 100 plays) is 12, while 'Melo's sits at only 9.
Essentially, Miami is good at valuing the basketball, but the Knicks do it better.
Iman Shumpert is almost set to return from an ACL tear.
The Knicks played their way to second in the East without two of their top players in Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert. That, however, is in the process of changing.
Amar'e Stoudemire, after sitting out the team's first 30 games, is back in action. He's entering contests off the bench but still playing impact minutes for New York. His minutes-restriction is now up to around 25-30 minutes, which is around the number he'll be playing from here on out.
STAT is still shaking off the rust after going eight months without stepping in between the lines. In seven games, he's averaging just under 10 points per contest in slightly over 20 minutes per. He's pulled down just three boards on average, but he did show a glimpse of full recovery against Indiana when he grabbed eight in 22 minutes while scoring nine points.
Stoudemire appears to be in full basketball shape, but he hasn't found his stroke just yet. His first step is quick and he's getting to the rack fairly easily, but not finishing. With more reps, expect the baskets to start falling, and Amar'e to regain star form for New York, especially once Raymond Felton returns. The pair built extraordinary chemistry under Mike D'Antoni prior to the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Iman Shumpert is set to return Jan. 17 against the Detroit Pistons. He suffered a torn ACL against Miami in Game 1 of the two teams' playoff series last season. If the second-year man performs similarly to the way he did as a rookie, there's no question that New York should improve on the whole.
In his first NBA season at 21 years of age, Shump established himself as one of the premier perimeter defenders in the entire league, let alone among rookies. His explosive athleticism enables him to slide into Ronnie Brewer's spot in the rotation easily, and add more than Brewer ever could.
The Knicks are getting better, and for the Miami Heat, that's scary to think about.
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