It's fitting, given how crazy this New York season has been, that none of the three games these two teams played in the regular season -- all Miami wins -- have much relevance now. One Miami win came in late January, before the Jeremy Lin craze and with Carmelo Anthony out nursing injuries. A second came at the height of the Lin madness, just before the All-Star break. And the last came with Amar'e Stoudemire out and Anthony shifting to power forward.
All of those versions of the Knicks are now expired, leaving New York with the team it expected to have at the start of the season. And that team has been perhaps the worst of all the teams-within-a-team the Knicks have used. The Anthony/Stoudemire combination just hasn't worked, especially on offense, and now the Knicks face the challenge of making it work against a rested and (mostly) healthy Heat team.
Tyson Chandler vs. Chris Bosh. Bosh took 48 shots against New York in the half court this season, and Chandler was his primary defender on 35 of them. The Knicks are justifiably terrified of having Stoudemire, one of the league's creakiest defenders, take on the Bosh assignment, leaving it to the probable Defensive Player of the Year and Jared Jeffries. As a perimeter-oriented big involved as a screener in many of Miami's quick-hitting sets, Bosh presents some unique problems for Chandler. Chandler is always sliding and shifting in order to plug leaks elsewhere, and the league's plodding centers can't punish him for that sort of controlled roving.
Bosh can, and has. He shot 23-of-50 combined in three games against New York, despite a horrid 4-of-18 performance in the first. He can pop out for jumpers, and when Chandler rushes to close, Bosh has had success dribbling by him. If Chandler has to rove too far to stop an initial action, someone else on the Knicks must rotate to Bosh, and that rotation hasn't consistently been there. When Bosh holds the ball on the block and isolates, the advantage shifts back Chandler's way.
The LeBron James/Anthony and Dwyane Wade/Iman Shumpert matchups are also tantalizing.
Knicks: Those pesky minutes. Fact: New York has scored just 99.1 points per 100 possessions when Anthony and Stoudemire play together and allowed 102.7. That first number -- the scoring number -- is borderline pitiful. The mix of Anthony/Chandler/Stoudemire just hasn't worked yet, and banking on reversing a season-long trend against an elite team in the playoffs is dangerous. The Knicks functioned well on both ends with Anthony at power forward, and given that Miami's big men beyond Bosh are non-threatening as scorers, it would seem safe to play Anthony heavy minutes at the four. Coach Mike Woodson is determined to get his three high-priced stars playing together, but he has also shown he's open to yanking one of them and adjusting on the fly.
Heat: The supporting players. For all the focus on the stars, the Heat are nearly unbeatable when at least two or three of their other players shoot well. That hasn't happened lately. Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem never really found their strokes, Mario Chalmers is shooting below 30 percent from three-point range since the end of February and Norris Cole fell off the map before coach Erik Spoelstra allowed him to feast a bit in some meaningless late-season games. The key might be Mike Miller, working his way back to health after a concussion and other injury issues. Miller offers a combination of shooting, passing and rebounding that none of Miami's other backup wings provide, and he has the potential to make the Heat's small lineups -- always x-factors -- even deadlier.
The Heat know how they must play in order to reach another level on offense; they showed it with their fiery 11-1 record in February. Expect a renewed focus after some late-season stagnancy, and while New York may able to get good looks from three against Miami's aggressive rotations, the Heat's talent and the Knicks' roster issues spell a Miami victory. Heat in five.