The Knicks still have a faint hope of avoiding the East’s top two seeds, Miami and Chicago, however that pipe dream relies on the historically bad Bobcats beating the Orlando Magic without Superman. Even with the sixth seed out of reasonable reach, the Knicks share the Eastern Conference’s eight best record with the Philadelphia 76ers and don’t know which team they’ll play in the first round with two games to go.
Based on matchups, styles of play and momentum would the Bulls or Heat be a better matchup for the Knicks in the first round while Amare Stoudemire finds his footing and Jeremy Lin heals his knee? Let’s examine the pros and cons:
Miami is slumping. After averaging 103.7 points per game in their new up-tempo offense inspired by Spoelstra’s summer tutorials from Oregon’s Chip Kelly, their plodding offense from 2011 has returned. Before the All-Star break, Miami averaged an NBA-best 103.7 points per game but are only averaging 94.6 since then.
In the half court, Miami’s offense struggles while the Knicks have the league’s best interior defense. The Knicks are first in the NBA in points allowed in the post this season thanks to Tyson Chandler’s active presence in the post. Miami is 28th in offensive points scored in the paint.
Surprisingly, the Knicks are also fourth offensively. Before the All-Star break they were 12th. In April, they’ve averaged 56 points per game in the paint. The Bynum-Gasol-Kobe led Lakers are second with 44.8 points. (For comparisons sake, Oklahoma City is averaging a league-worst 23.7 points in the paint.)
Madison Square Garden is a home court unlike any and Dorothy of Oz didn’t look as lost as the Heat have on the road this season. Against playoff teams on the road, the Knicks have gone 2-10 since the All-Star break.
In addition, the Heat have the 27th worst scoring bench while the Knicks have one of the league’s best. Meanwhile, the Heat also have the league’s 20th ranked bench defense.
Lebron James for three quarters is the best basketball player on the planet. Surviving his 36 minute onslaught and getting into his head before the fourth will be key for Anthony.
. Carmelo earned 42 points the hard way against the Heat on April 15, but he’ll have to repeat his superhuman performances for the Knicks to have a chance in this series. This potential first round matchup will be a clash of strengths for both the Knicks and Heat. The Heat have the league’s best defense in regards to defending the pick & roll and isolation sets, which is where Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Anthony thrive.
While the Heat have gone 2-10 on the road since the All-Star break against quality opponents, the two wins have come against Philadelphia and…New York.
Pros: The reigning league MVP isn’t close to 100% and has missed 38 of the Bulls 64 games to date. Defensively, the Bulls have consistently remained the NBA’s best in his absence.
Last season, the Bulls and Derrick Rose literally limped past the Indiana Pacers. This season, they’ll be limping into the first round with Luol Deng recovering from a rib injury. These Knicks are better than last season’s Indiana Pacers squad and Iman Shumpert may have the defensive aptitude to slow down Derrick Rose’s onslaught.
Derrick Rose loves to drive inside but that may be a challenge against the league’s best interior defense.
Cons: If Derrick Rose is full strength, even Iman Shumpert may not have an answer for the reigning league MVP. Unlike the Bulls, Chicago’s second unit does not relent on either side of the floor and are consistent on the road and at home. When Rose was out, the Bulls lacked a uniquely explosive talent at point guard but with Rose, they are formidable.
Chicago is also the NBA’s best rebounding unit. Although, Chandler has improved New York’s interior defense, the Knicks have struggled all a season to grab boards. The Bulls are the best rebounding team in the league.
In their last two meetings, the Knicks have been outrebounded 80-110 by Chicago. Many of those woes could be contributed to Amare Stoudemire’s absence in the lineup as the Knicks are 29th in rebounding this month. However, against playoff teams this season the Knicks are still 20th.
The Bulls have one of the best benches in the league and are first in the NBA in opponent bench scoring. Conversely the Knicks are 13th since the All Star break in bench points allowed.
As talented as the Bulls are however, they are clearly the best possible first round matchup for the New York Knicks. The Bulls have great depth but in the playoffs, superstars rise to the occasion and the Bulls star point guard risks injury to his groin and ankle every time he lifts off, lands or make explosive moments.
Mike Woodson has only had 21 games to implement his own system, however, in that team the Knicks have evolved into one of the East’s top four teams. Whomever, draws New York’s card in the first round will be in for a first round battle against a team that’s better than its seeding indicates.