LeBron James, along with the rest of the Miami Heat, had a huge smile on their faces while watching the New York Knicks fourth quarter surge last Tuesday.
After outscoring the Pacers 30-2, the Knicks took control late and tied the series at one game a piece. The Knicks forced Indiana into 21 turnovers and Carmelo Anthony had a game-high 32 points in the blowout, and the Miami Heat would like nothing better.
There are very few teams that can say they have a winning record against the best team in the NBA this season, but both the Knicks (3-1) and Pacers (2-1) can make that statement.
But while it seems that New York's ability to create instant offense is what makes them a contender in the Eastern Conference, Miami's style of play is better suited to play the Knicks rather than the rugged Pacers.
The reigning NBA and Eastern Conference Champions play the exact same way the Knicks do. Both teams are better playing their version of small ball, with each team's superstar best when at power forward on the low block.
The Heat defenders are better at defending the perimeter than they are trying to negate scoring in the paint. They continuously get out-rebounded, leading to more opportunities for the opposition to score on put backs and other various second chance points.
During this postseason the Heat have averaged 41.2 rebounds per game, about five rebounds lower than what the Pacers have averaged, according to CBSSports.com. The Heat have struggled with bigger, tougher inside opponents in the playoffs already, having to go up against a similar Chicago Bulls team.
The Bulls are the only team other than Indiana to record over 90 offensive rebounds in the 2013 playoffs. The Heat struggle with a bigger lineup because they want to play smaller, which gives LeBron James and the rest of the team to take advantage of their athleticism and quickness in the open court.
Without the height in the middle, Miami is susceptible at giving up a lot of rebounds, as is the case with the Chicago Bulls. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson have always been the toughness inside for this team,and they all take pride controlling the glass.
If the Heat move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, then Pacers would be the last team they want to play.
Who would the Miami Heat rather face in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Roy Hibbert and David West give Indiana a great size advantage along with Tyler Hansbrough inside. At some point, LeBron James will have to switch his defensive priority from West to Paul George if George gets going. That frees up both big men to battle down low, giving the advantage to the Pacers.
The Knicks, on the other hand, only average slightly above 40 rebounds per game. With Carmelo Anthony playing more of a perimeter role at the 4 spot, it not only stretches the defense, but Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are the only two that are inside post threats.
The Heat can also take advantage of the fact that the Knicks are taking a lot of threes this postseason. Right now, New York is third among remaining playoff teams in three-point attempts, (193) according to CBSSports.com. The Heat's defense, although not suited to defend inside, lead the rest of the postseason teams in three-point defense, holding opponents to only 30.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Even though the Knicks have been known for their high-flying offense during the regular season when they averaged 100 points per game shooting 44 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three, that offense has seemed to disappear in the playoffs.
Yes, the Knicks had their 105-point outing against the Pacers on Tuesday, but up to that point New York was shooting terribly from the field. Of the eight remaining playoff teams, the Knicks are the lowest in scoring. They are only averaging 90.8 points per game, over 10 points less from their regular season averages.
That less-than-stellar offensive output came at the expense of the old-aged Boston Celtics. The defense of the Miami Heat is a whole different animal. They are holding their opponents to 85.3 points per game this postseason while outscoring their opposition by 15 points per contest.
Shane Battier, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can defend the multitude of guards that the Knicks would send out on the floor. They would have a much harder time posting up the size of Hibbert and West if they were to play the Pacers.
Anybody on the Heat would tell you that it doesn't matter who they play for the Eastern Conference crown, but the game of basketball is all about matchups. And the matchups suggest they would rather play the New York Knicks.