By now, it's a reasonably old story in professional sports. Fans, players, beat writers, even their pets love to beat up on teams from New York and tomorrow night, just outside of South Beach, you can be sure the Miami Heat will be looking to lay a statement type thrashing on their born again Eastern Conference rivals from up Madison Square Garden way.
That we can even refer to this coming collision between NBA units from near opposite ends of the seaboard as a rivalry is something of a new development.
At least, as far as the primary combatants are concerned, who rarely concern themselves with ancient history—in this case, the Knick-Heat gladiator type battles that pretty regularly took place a decade or more ago.
Up in the stands, though, where a healthy majority will be draped in white and crying for Knick blood, lingers a deeply embedded or pervasive hatred for all sports things New York.
Onto itself, this figures to make for the type of electrified environment which can't help but collectively charge a Miami Heat team that has essentially spared no quarter to the opposition since the twenty game mark of the 2010/2011 season.
To be sure, the Knicks will be up against it come tip off time. Only recently reconfigured, the team now features a new pair of prolific scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, but has lost some of its physical essence in the course of engendering their services.
Those two are a far cry from a purposeful Miami Heat team that appears intent on passing the Boston Celtics by on their way to the best record in the NBA East.
Between them, Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh are averaging about 70 points, 23 rebounds and 14 assists per game, and while the rest of the team doesn't amount to all that much more than a hill of beans, it hasn't mattered, since they righted the ship early on and set sail on a three month track of winning basketball.
The Knicks do not have the luxury of a twenty game waiting period as they try to propel themselves to better playoff positioning or at least give themselves the idea that they will soon be able to compete with the league's best teams, much less squeak by the ignominious likes of the Cavs and Bucks.
In the tiny sampling we've gotten thus far, though, this revamped Knick team doesn't look all that much different than the prior version of itself in place only a week ago.
They still give up way too many easy baskets, and they still hoist up an intolerable amount of three's.
The latter habit they should be able to break themselves of. Carmelo Anthony loves to post up, demands the ball inside and, more often than not, will end up converting or getting to the free throw line off maneuvers inside the paint.
Chauncey Billups can still rush the hoop, needs to stay in the habit of doing so and Amar'e Stoudemire will continue to play fifteen feet and in to great effect.
This Knick version of the Big Three figures to be in majority possession of the ball and there's almost no doubt the team will put points on the board in significant bunches.
Maybe with a little more consistency than what they've been doing all year long, but the reality is the Knicks were already amongst the league leaders in scoring before the big trade and all they had to show for it was two more wins than losses amidst the season's first 48 games.
With Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on board, expectations have risen and the same type of middling basketball will not be an acceptable result.
That means this team will have to rally from within (unless one thinks of Jared Jeffries, if he does end up arriving in New York early next week, as some kind of defensive savior), and somehow they will have to break this season long trend of playing less than compelling defense.
And rest assured, there is no magic formula to it.
The Miami Heat excel on the defensive side of the ball and their Big Three leads the way.
They'll press up on you from 25 feet away and despite being somewhat height challenged themselves—young Joel Anthony is the closest thing the Heat have to a nimble, shot blocking presence in the middle—scramble to close the lane quickly, preclude easy shots down low and in almost all cases, avoid even a short run of second opportunities for the opposition.
The Riley/Spoelstra mindset helps, but when you come right down to it, defense is about hustle and positioning. A dedication to the purpose, to the individual moment, a willingness to bang and hit the floor.
We haven't seen that type of commitment from the Knicks at any point over the last couple of years, though they don't mind dropping an appealing sound-bite on the sideline mikes every once in awhile.
Get stops in three and four minute spurts?
Ummmm, okay, if that's the best the Knicks can do at this point, we'll have to take it under consideration.
Something, for starters anyway, and Sunday night in Miami would be as good a place as any to start.
The Heat will be ready, and their fans will be rocking.
Rhetorically speaking, they'll be out for blood, and if the Knicks don't get with it fast, they're going to playing the role of the sacrificial lamb.
Until tomorrow night then,
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