Knicks-Heat: What To Watch For

In a potential playoff preview, the seemingly playoff bound Knicks face off at MSG against the sliding Miami Heat. Headed into the game, New York has won 4 of their past 5 games, while Miami has lost 3 of their last 5. Led by Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are 13-4 since the firing/resigning of Mike D’Antoni. Both teams are coming off blowout victories over bad teams. This one should be fun.

This post will be longer than most pre-game posts, but its Knicks-Heat. It’s a huge game and a potential playoff preview. It should be fun.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • The Knicks have to shoot the ball well. New York is one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the league, but they do have the potential to get hot. On the season, the Knicks have shot just 31.9% from downtown. Over the past 10 games, the Knicks have shot 35.6% from downtown. In those 10 games, the Knicks are 7-3. When the Knicks shoot the ball well, they are a far better offensive team. With Steve Novak and JR Smith throwing up three’s, the Knicks offense can be very hit and miss. Tomorrow, I think the Heat are going to focus on stopping Melo and even on defending the paint from Tyson Chandler and his 67% field goal percentage. The Miami defense will force the Knicks to shoot a lot of threes. If New York shoots 5/30 from three, we are going to be in for a long afternoon.
  • Will Shumpert play? If the Knicks are without their dynamic defender, they’re going to be in trouble. Shumpert’s performance in this game will be monumental, as he likely will be assigned to defend Dwayne Wade. I also think we’ll see moments where Shumpert is guarding LeBron James. I’d rather see Shumpert on Wade, as I think LeBron is too tall and too big for Shumpert. I think James will give Shumpert problems, but I think Shumpert is well equipped with his length and athleticism to check Wade. If Shumpert cannot play, the Knicks will have to roll with more Landry Fields, with some possible Toney Douglas sprinkled in here and there. Yikes.
  • How will Miami defend the Knicks? The Knicks are likely going to come out with their small ball lineup (assuming Shumpert is good to go and healthy). It will be interesting to see how Miami adjusts to this. Personally, if I were the Heat, I wouldn’t change a thing. I think Miami is good enough defensively to play straight up (Chalmers-Wade-James-Bosh-Anthony/Turiaf) against the Knicks small ball lineup. If I were the Heat, I would make the Knicks adjust to how I play. I would keep Joel Anthony on the floor to defend Chandler and I would put Bosh on Landry Fields. I would defend Melo with LeBron, and defend the guard spots accordingly. I’m not sure the Heat will do this though. I think the Heat will use Shane Battier often in this game, given his ability to defend multiple positions. I think the Heat centers, Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, will see more limited minutes than usual. I think Miami will use Bosh at center for good parts of the game, especially given how he dominated Tyson Chandler offensively in these teams last meeting.
  • Here is a statistical analysis of the small ball Knicks lineup.

  • Thanks to NBA.com for this graphic. Obviously, these statistics are over a short period of time, 10 games, but I think they are good to analyze in order to see the effectiveness of the Knicks small ball lineup. As we can see from the stats cube here, the Knicks are incredibly good with this lineup on the floor. Their defensive rating is about 8 points higher than the overall team average throughout the season, while the defensive rating checks in at 85.3, a whooping 12.2 points lower than the normal rating of 97.5. To put that in perspective, the Bulls lineup of Rose, Brewer, Deng, Boozer and Noah checks in at a 92.9 defensive rating. Obviously the Knicks numbers are a bit skewed due to the small sample size (10 games to the Bulls’ 22 games), but the point is that they are fantastic defensively as a unit. Not only is the Knick defense better with this small lineup on the floor, but the offense is far better as well. Their 108.1 offensive rating is far higher than the team average of 100.5. As we can see from the stats cube, the Knicks not only dish more assists with this lineup, but they shoot far better and rebound far better than on average. Lets start with the field goal percentage. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the Knick defense is improved. Given the fact that they are defending and rebounding at a higher rate, the Knicks are doing a great job of turning defense into offense. Landry Fields in particular comes to mind when I think of Knicks benefiting from transition offense. Fields has averaged 9.8 ppg on 45% shooting in April. In addition, Carmelo Anthony being the main scorer with this lineup is a big reason why this unit’s FG% is up at 50.6%. Given Anthony’s 29.3% usage rate, the ball is being put into his hands. He’s shooting the ball over 50% in the month of April, so therefore this unit is going to shoot better. The ball is also moving more efficiently as the Knicks are assisting the ball better with this lineup. A lot of that has to do with the spacing the Knicks create with the smaller lineup. The stat that I was most surprised to see, was that the Knicks rebound at a rate of 56% with this team on the floor. A lot of this has to do with Tyson Chandler and his phenomenal rebounding, but also with the strong rebounding of Carmelo Anthony and Landry Fields.
  • So how does this relate to the game tomorrow against Miami? I really like the way that this lineup forces its opponents to adjust their lineups accordingly. Anthony causes havoc at the 4 and garners a mismatch almost every possession. If Anthony himself does not have a mismatch, somebody else on the offense usually does. I think the Knicks can do some interesting things defensively with this team on the floor against the Heat. I think New York has the potential to trap the Heat offense more effectively, due to the fact that you have 3 above average defenders with solid quickness and lateral movement in Anthony, Fields and Shumpert. I think the fact that Chandler is manning the paint gives the Knicks perimeter defenders more opportunities to gamble and take opportunities. Chandler proved in last season’s NBA Finals that he’s not intimidated of James or Wades abilities to get to the rim and finish. I think the Knick perimeter defenders should be the attackers tomorrow, rather than sitting back and waiting on defense. As great as James and Wade are, the Heat are a middle of the road team in turnovers, ranking 19th in the league with a turnover ratio of 14.22. I think as much as the Knicks must focus on not turning it over, which I will talk about a bit later, they should be focused on attacking Miami’s offense and grabbing turnovers themselves. I think the Knicks also have a chance to control the glass in this game. With this lineup, the Knicks are rebounding at a great rate of 56%. Miami is a middle of the road rebounding team. With Anthony’s offensive rebounding abilities and the overall great rebounding abilities of Chandler, I think the Knicks can dominate the glass in this game. If they can get 10-15 offensive rebounds, they have a good shot to win.
  • The Knicks CANNOT turn the ball over. It’s pretty simple. The Knicks turn the ball over a lot and Miami’s good at forcing turnovers. The Heat are the best transition offense in the league, given the fact that they have probably the two best transition players in the league in James and Wade. If the Knicks want to win, they have to keep the turnovers under 15 and when they turn the ball over, they MUST get back on defense. I think the Knicks can hang with Miami in the half-court both offensively and defensively, but the Knicks will get themselves in trouble if they give Miami opportunity to run. Baron can’t be playing like a Globetrotter and throwing turnovers all over the place. He’s got to be under control or else the Knicks are screwed.
  • Tyson must stop Chris Bosh tomorrow. In the last Knicks-Heat matchup, Tyson Chandler was assigned to guard Chris Bosh defensively. Chandler struggled mightily as Bosh scored 25 points on 11/17 shooting. That cannot happen tomorrow (or this morning, I guess). I’ve always believed that Bosh is the third most important offensive player on the Heat team, behind James and Wade. When he gets cooking offensively, they’re impossible to stop, given the fact that Wade and James are usually cooking offensively. You can overcome Wade and James scoring about 50 points combined, but if you let Bosh get in on that party, you’re screwed. In the Knicks last game, James and Wade scored 47 while Bosh scored 25. The Knicks inability to stop Bosh really was the killer in that game. The big 2 will get theirs, but the Knicks must stop Bosh from getting his.
  • The biggest matchup of the game is Carmelo Anthony versus LeBron James. It’s obvious, this is the true primetime matchup in the game tomorrow. In order for the Knicks to win, Anthony has to step up and play well against his friend and rival in James. He’s done it before. Here are the cumulative stats, as well as the win-loss record in their 14 match-ups:

  • Anthony has always played very well against James. Look no further than New York’s victory over the Heat last season, when Melo scored 29 points and led the Knicks to an upset 91-86 victory. In their 14 career head-to-head match-ups, Anthony is 9-5. This season, the Knicks lost the only game in which the two faced off (Anthony sat out the first Knick-Heat match-up). Melo has been rolling as of late and I think he’ll keep it going tomorrow. The Knick superstar has been absolutely fantastic as of late, averaging 30 points a game on 50.7% shooting in the month of April. James is obviously a great defender and fantastic athlete, but Anthony does play well against him. As you can see above, Melo averages 21 ppg on 44% shooting. James also plays great against Anthony, but Melo’s teams usually get the last laugh. I think tomorrow, it is imperative for Anthony to hit his jump shot early in the game. If he can get his jab step jumper game going, the rest of his offensive game will open up. To quote the great Hubie Brown “Anthony has the mid-range game down pat.” The Melo-man is most dangerous when he’s making it rain with the jump shot. If he can hit 2-3 jumpers early in the game, that will force James to play up on him. This allows Anthony to use his quickness to get to the rim and score, or make plays and dish assists if necessary. I think Melo will play a great game tomorrow and I think he’ll give the Knicks a chance to win.
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