It’s rematch time in South Beach, another chapter in a rivalry born in the 90’s and brought back in the new millenium. The New York Knicks come to Miami to face the Heat and it’s payback time. This is a team the Heat are sure to face in the postseason, so this is all just shadowboxing, but sometimes, even the reigning champion has to make a statement.
The Knicks won six in a row to start the season, but have leveled off and sit at 13-4 after a game-winner by J.R. Smith over the Charlotte Bobcats. They’re second in offensive efficiency at 113.1 points per 100 possessions and 13th in defensive efficiency at 104.1. When healthy they’re a well-balanced team, but even with Amar’e Stoudemire and defensive wunderkind Iman Shumpert they’re a contender. Melo wants to be on that level with LeBron, Wade and Kobe, and that desire seems to have bled into the rest of the team. Led by Steve Novak, J.R. Smith and Melo they shoot 41.6% from beyond the arc, which is sure to give the Heat trouble if they’re not locked in defensively. They keep it slow, a 90.6 Pace Factor the third slowest in the league while the Heat rate as the 9th fastest at 92.7. We know Miami likes to run, so it will be a battle to see who gets to play their game.
What happened last time: In a game with emotions running high in the wake of Hurricane Sandy the Knicks couldn’t miss from distance, going 19-for-36 and Carmelo Anthony did his best MVP impression with 30 points and 10 boards. Miami was down 15 after the first quarter and ended up losing by 20 despite shooting 46%. The Big Three scored 50 points and Rashard Lewis scored 16 off the bench, but the rest of the supporting cast was ineffective. It was the first showing of the defensive issues that have plagued this team all year.
Who to watch: Shane Battier is expected to return to the starting lineup, stabilizing the rotation. We’ll see how effective he is, he’ll probably see time guarding Carmelo when LeBron is otherwise occupied. For the Knicks, the key is going to be J.R. Smith because when you have him on your team he can win or lose it for you in two minutes. New York’s Jason Kidd will make his return to the starting lineup which will make life a bit easier on Raymond Felton. We could see Joel Anthony more than last game because the Heat need to defend the hoop, and that’s what he’s there for.
Why the Heat will win: A little payback is always in order when you lose like Miami did in November, and even if it’s just the regular season this is a marquee game against a conference rival. With LeBron James you always have a chance, and Wade has been on fire. The Heat defend their home court like no other. The Knicks are also going to be on the second half of a back-to-back, having been pushed to the brink in a 100-98 win over the Bobcats.
Why the Heat will lose: Whether or not it was right, Tyson Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and protects the basket as good as anyone in the game. That’s where the Heat are trying to get and as he proved in 2011 and again last year, Tyson can stop them. Melo is playing like he has something to prove and he’s sure to bring his A game against the best in the league. He did cut his finger against the ‘Cats, but he’s a big boy. Steve Novak might be the best sharpshooter in the game right now and with the struggles Miami has had against the three he might have another career game.
Prediction: Miami wins, 112 – 107.