Saturday, April 28, 2012

Playoff Preview: How do the Knicks beat the Heat?

Well, it took until the very last night of the NBA regular season but the Knicks got seventh seed and will play in the first round the team many feared. The Knicks head to South Beach today and take on the super squad of the NBA. The Heat, of course, are going to be a very, very tough series for New York. They swept the regular season series against New York 3-0 and each Miami win was by eight points or more. No close finishes. No last second shots. All decisive wins.

So for me to sit here and tell you the Knicks have a good shot of winning is bullshit. We know the Heat are a great team. As much as I hate to admit it. But I think despite, the destruction at the hands of the Heat this season, I still believe the Knicks have at least a fair chance to win. I also think the Knicks-Heat series will end up being the most interesting match-up of the first round.

Maybe it's because I am a desperate Knicks homer who wants more than anything for New York to get pass the first round for a change. Maybe it's because I dislike LeBron James, and Miami so much that I can't bear to even imagine them defeating my beloved team on their way to a NBA championship. Maybe I'm just an idiot. Maybe I know there are holes in their armor that the Knicks can use to their advantage. Maybe I think the Knicks defense is good enough to hold the Heat offense in check.

But it's probably mostly because I'm an idiot.

Whatever the source of my delirium, I am going to outline four keys that I think will be important for the Knicks to pull out a series win:

Key #1: Keep Miami out of the paint

I think this will turn out to be the most important factor in the game. If their is one weakness in the Heat's offense, it's that they don't have many starters that are great shooters (especially their three stars). If you let LeBron James get to the rim, he's probably going to score. This season he has averaged 75% from around the basket. But that percentage quickly and drastically drops the further he gets away from the rim. From 3-15 feet away from the basket he shoots 47%, from 16-23 he shoots 39%, and from three-point range he is an average 36%. You can find a similar arc from Dwayne Wade as well (and to be honest probably every player has a somewhat similar pattern). But Wade shoots ever worst from outside the arc (27%).

Their two best scorers are weak when they aren't allowed to penetrate, so the Knicks have to take advantage of this deficiency. They got to be willing to play off LeBron, and Wade and force them to win with their shooting. Something that should be hard for them to do. The Knicks also have to clog the paint too, and make it difficult for Miami Heat to finish when they are allowed penetration. If Jared Jeffries plays, this will be a big advantage, especially when it comes to drawing charges.

If the Heat are hitting these shots, then it will be a long day for the Knicks. But after a few misses from the stars, momentum may start swinging New York's way.

Key #2: Limit turnovers

This goes somewhat hand in hand with the the first key and is a no-brainer for any team that wants to win. The last thing New York can allow, if they want to win, is Miami to score too many easy baskets. They obviously can't afford to give up too many scoring chances either.

The Heat are the third best team in the league when it comes to forcing turnovers and the Knicks are the second worst team when it comes to turning the ball over. Not a good combination. The Heat aren't the most aggressive fast break team (ranked 11th in fast break points) but they might be the most dangerous, especially when you have have ferocious open court players like James or Wade.

Key #3: Woodson has to be willing to limit Amare's minutes

I think a lot of the "is Amare going to blow our chemistry" talk has been crap. The Knicks played very well under Woodson when both Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire were on the court. Then he got hurt, but the Knicks were still able to keep up the good play, and so for some reason people thought that the they would be terrible once Amare got back. His presence would kill the chemistry and the advantage the Knicks had gained with Anthony at the four spot. Just unreasonable, pessimistic thought.

But then in his first game back, New York dropped a critical against the average Cleveland Cavaliers and the unreasonable, pessimistic thought was quantified.

But I am, again, going to give him the benefit of doubt that it was his first game back from an injury. He played well in his second game back against the Clippers and he was ok in his limited minutes against the Bobcats. I think Amare is an important part of the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But he can be a liability on the defensive side of the ball, and he still doesn't seem to have his same leaping ability.

So I think, in the best interest of the Knicks, that Woodson should be willing to keep Amare on the bench especially if he isn't playing well on the offensive side of the ball. He is just coming back from an serious injury, and big minutes might not be a good idea anyways. But Woodson can't just leave him on the floor because he is Amare under the assumption he'll play through it. The team can't afford that big of a potential liability in the playoffs. The Knicks would be better suited with defensive Jared Jeffries (if he can play) or even just going with a small line-up than having a struggling Stoudemire on the floor.

Key #4: Knicks need to utilize their bench 

The Heat have such staggering talent that it's hard for most people to think the Knicks have a chance overcoming them. But New York does have a huge talent advantage over Miami when it comes to the bench. Miami's lack of depth isn't surprising considering how much salary the Heat's big three earn, but it is an extreme liability. When James, Wade, or Bosh aren't scoring, who is stepping up for the team?

Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem top off the weak squad but both are having perhaps the worst years of their respective careers. Norris Cole has played well as a rookie, but can be uneven, and who knows how much he can contribute in the playoffs. The Knicks, on the other hand, have a loaded bench with solid players like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Jared Jeffries. All have excelled and different points. Smith can provide much needed scoring assistance to Anthony, Shumpert is already considered to be one of the better defenders in the league. Novak was the best three-point shooter this past season, and Jeffries brings an understated defensive ability to the game.

If the Knicks can dominate the bench battle (which should be too difficult) then it greater furthers their chances of escaping the first round. But if "Mobb Depp" doesn't show up in the playoffs, the Knicks are likely doomed.

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