No NBA team has a particularly good chance at beating the Miami Heat in a seven-game series. They have the best player in the world (LeBron James), three other future Hall of Famers (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen) and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. To say the least, they will be a heavy favorite in every series. But if anyone can beat the Heat, the New York Knicks can.
There are a few teams that can give the Heat trouble in a series. The elite coaching of Doc Rivers and veteran presence of guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett may be enough to steal a game. The physicality of the Bulls has given the Heat trouble at times this year. The size of the Pacers was enough for Indiana to take two games against Miami in the playoffs last season and take the season series this year.
Still, the team with the best shot to take down the Heat in their quest for the finals is the New York Knicks.
The winners of 14 of 15, the Knicks are the hottest team in the NBA.
The Heat have two main weaknesses: perimeter defense and rebounding. In order for a team to defeat them, it must exploit these shortcomings while excelling in stopping the Heat's contributors outside the Big Three.
The Knicks lead the NBA in three-pointers made, with 10.9 a game. The Heat are ranked 24th in the NBA in three-pointers allowed, and this has been a constant theme throughout the season series.
In the three games the Knicks won against the Heat, they shot 47.7 percent (51-of-107) from behind the arc, averaging 17 three-pointers a game. In their lone loss to the Heat, they shot 8-of-29, only 27.6 percent. Simply put, the Knicks will have to hit threes in bunches in order to keep up with the high-scoring Heat.
How many games do the Knicks win in a potential playoff series against the Heat?
The other area in which the Heat have struggled is rebounding, though this has been partly mitigated by the emergence of Chris Andersen off the bench. Still, Udonis Haslem is an undersized center who no longer possess the athleticism to keep up with the likes of Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin, and Chris Bosh, despite his deft shooting touch, is far from a bruiser.
While the Knicks don't have a ton of size currently (Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby are all hurt, though the first three are expected back for the playoffs), they have much more than the Heat.
Surprisingly, the Knicks are actually minus-6 against the Heat this season in the rebounding department, which represents a failure to exploit a main Heat weakness.
The final advantage the Knicks have with the Heat is good defensive matchups throughout the lineup.
It will be interesting to see if Iman Shumpert takes over for Prigioni in the starting lineup, as Mike Woodson may want to put the athletic and lanky Shumpert on Wade. Carmelo has shown flashes of physicality to get in front of LeBron (that's the best you can hope for), and Tyson's size inside has given Bosh difficulty in the past.
Raymond Felton, while not a great defender, should be able to contain Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem, who owns a nice jump shot, has really slowed down over the course of the season.
While the Heat have great individual talent, they're so dangerous because of their superior ball movement, which always seems to find an open shooter.
According to advanced metrics (per Eric Reid of the Miami Heat telecast), the Heat are the best corner three-point shooting team (if you watch the Heat, you'll notice it too). With three-point specialists like Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis and James Jones, the Knicks cannot lose track of the Heat's role players.
It's important for the Knicks to get everybody rested and healthy for the playoff run. While having a veteran team is great for leadership and experience reasons, they don't have the same stamina and energy of younger players. This was evident around the midway point of the season during Jason Kidd's swoon. Since playing fewer minutes, Kidd has been reinvigorated over the last few weeks.
It won't be easy to knock off a team of the Heat's talent, but with the Knicks on the run they're on, combined with the confidence they gained from their matchups this season, they certainly have a shot.