5 Reasons Why Miami Heat Have No Reason to Feel Threatened by New York Knicks
But good news for the Heat, they're a completely different team now than they were then. Bad news for the Knicks, they aren't nearly as good as everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season.
Going into Sunday's matchup with the Knicks, the Heat are riding a 12-game winning streak, and honestly, it looks like there aren't many teams that can stand in their way of representing the Eastern Conference in the 2013 NBA Finals.
The Knicks gave the Heat trouble early on in the season, but as always, things are starting to change. Being threatened by the Knicks isn't something the Heat need to be worried about in the least.
Dwyane Wade Is Back to Full Health
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His numbers aren't LeBron-esque, but they're pretty darn efficient, with 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, all while shooting 53.2 percent from the field.
What's even more impressive is that Wade is putting up that production and he's averaging just 36.2 minutes per game. It's okay to be impressed. Wade is back to his glory days now that he's back to full health.
The Knicks should be terrified of Wade's production as of late because in all honesty they don't have many perimeter defenders who can hang with him.
Let's run down the Knicks' options of defenders for Wade. Jason Kidd? That's a definite no. J.R. Smith? Come on now, let's not pretend like Smith can actually lock Wade down.
The Knicks' best option on Wade is Iman Shumpert and he's been a shell of his former self this season.
In the first two meetings with the Knicks, Wade put up an average of 14 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists. Yeah, his numbers on Sunday when the two teams meet are going to be very, very different.
Rasheed Wallace Is Done for the Season
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No, Rasheed Wallace isn't a foundational piece of the New York Knicks' championship puzzle. But he's certainly an important one.
The fact that he's out for the rest of the season after deciding to undergo surgery on his foot—according to the New York Times—certainly impacts the Knicks' depth as the season continues.
The only Knicks vs. Heat game that mattered for Wallace was their second meeting, in Miami. In that game he was a real difference maker, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven boards in 14 minutes of action.
Wallace's size and perimeter shooting was something the Heat had serious trouble with, and seeing that the Knicks will be without him, the Heat don't have as much to worry about.
The Knicks were 18-5 with Wallace in the lineup. They've gone 16-15 without him.
Coincidence? I think not.
The Amar'e Stoudemire Curse
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The New York Knicks are 13-11 with Amar'e Stoudemire. They were 21-9 without him. You do the math.
I'm not saying that Amar'e Stoudemire is a bad player, because he's certainly not. His averages of 13.7 points and five rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting isn't terrible, especially considering that he's playing just 22.8 minutes per game.
The problem with Stoudemire is that while his production isn't bad, he doesn't make the Knicks more formidable as a team.
The Heat have had no issues with the Knicks when Amar'e is on the court, as evidenced by their near clean sweep of the Knicks in last year's playoffs.
When it comes to the Heat matching up with Amar'e, all they need to do is let him take jumpers from the perimeter instead of letting him get into the paint. It's what they did last season against him, and it's also what they'll do from this point forward.
Even with the Heat's smaller lineup, Amar'e doesn't pose enough of a threat to them to be concerned with the production he'll bring to the court.
The "Amar'e wrench" that's been thrown into the Knicks' rotation honestly helps the Heat out, and we'll see that when the two teams face off throughout the rest of the season.
LeBron Is Playing Absolutely Out of His Mind
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If you weren't aware, it's LeBron James' world and we're all just living in it.
In the Heat's two losses to the Knicks, LeBron averaged 27 points 8.5 rebounds, seven assists and 3.5 turnovers per game, while shooting 52.5 percent from the field.
That's certainly not bad, but by LeBron's current level of play it's just not up to par.
In the month of February alone, he's been shooting above 64 percent from the field, he's gone over 40 points once and over 30 points eight times. Not to mention he's also shot 80 percent from the free-throw line, which is rather shocking for the King.
The point is, LeBron has clearly found his groove and it seems like there's no one in the NBA that can stop him, especially now that the Knicks don't have Ronnie Brewer on their roster to try and defend him.
When the Heat take the court this Sunday in Madison Square Garden, my bet is that LeBron will be ready to make the biggest statement he's made all season long.
There's no bigger stage than MSG, and the lights couldn't be shining any brighter on him than they are now.
LeBron is ready to show the Knicks that the Heat aren't afraid of them, and he's ready to take them down for the first time this season.
Heat Have Actually Started to Play Defense
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So the Heat aren't the best defensive team in the NBA by any stretch of the imagination. But they've come a long way since the first few weeks of the season.
In their first five losses of the season, including one to the New York Knicks, the Heat gave up an average of 106.4 points per game. Early on the Heat were getting beat because they couldn't stop anyone.
Now it's a different story, where in their last five losses, they've given up an average of just 97 points per game. That might not seem like a big difference, but it shows that the Heat are starting to play defense, and when they lose, it's not solely because they can't stop teams.
Why are the Heat a better defensive team now than at the beginning of the season? Mainly because LeBron and Wade have amped up their intensity, and the rest of the team has followed.
Instead of failing to get back in transition or being lazy in passing lanes, the Heat are relentlessly pursuing perimeter shooters and at the same time, not allowing teams to score easily in the paint.
The Knicks' two wins against the Heat came mainly because Miami couldn't cool them down from beyond the arc. That was because the Heat weren't able to pressure shooters like they are now.
Chalk that up to increased chemistry, coaching adjustments or just plain conditioning, but the truth of the matter is that the Heat are a much more competent defensive team now. That's bad news for the Knicks.
I know defense doesn't win championships alone, but it's certainly important and it's encouraging to see the Heat increasing their defensive focus and intensity as the season rages on.