Keys to Knicks-Warmth – This is what may determine the most recent chapter of this basic NBA playoff rivalry
It has been 23 years since the New York Knicks reached the Eastern Conference Finals and 24 years since their last appearance at the NBA Finals.
And to get there both times, the Knicks had to fight their way through the Miami Heat.
From 1997 to 2000—after then-coach Pat Riley switched from the Knicks to the Heat in 1995—the two teams fought back-to-back battles, each of those streaks going the distance.
Those intense showdowns, which perhaps culminated during the 1998 playoffs when then-Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy was wrapped around the leg of Heat center Alonzo Mourning during an in-game skirmish, created a level of animosity that is among current Players may not exist, but it is still strong among the fanbases of both franchises.
“It’s great,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant to those Knicks teams. “The players are too young, some of them probably weren’t even born yet. But for the older folks that were there, it’s part of the story, it’s fun. If you love competition, this is about it. “
“I don’t think it’s important for the dressing rooms,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who was also Riley’s assistant at the time. “And that’s okay. Those battles are so long ago. It probably means something for the organizations, but ultimately it’s about trying to achieve something big.”
On Sunday (1 p.m. ET on ABC), the Knicks and Heat will play their latest playoff showdown: the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which begins at Madison Square Garden.
There will be many memories of those clashes between the Knicks and Heat. In addition to the two coaches, Allan Houston and Mourning – stars for the Knicks and Heat respectively in those fights – now have front office roles at their franchises. Riley is still in charge of the Heat as he has been since leaving New York almost 30 years ago. Much of its staff is still in place.
There were plenty of other memories to watch last week as the Knicks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Latrell Sprewell was on the sidelines. John Starks and Larry Johnson were featured on the Jumbotron. All three were part of the cacophonous roar that overwhelmed Cleveland in both victories and sent fans onto Seventh Avenue to cheer.
Knicks Heat series schedule
|game 1||Sunday, April 30th||Heat at Knicks||1 p.m. ET, ABC|
|game 2||Tuesday, May 2nd||Heat at Knicks||TBD, TNT|
|game 3||Sat 6 May||Knicks at Heat||TBD, ABC|
|game 4||Mon, May 8th||Knicks at Heat||7:30 ET, TNT|
|Game 5*||Wed, May 10th||Heat at Knicks||TBD, TNT|
|Game 6*||Fri May 12||Knicks at Heat||TBD, ESPN|
|Game 7*||Mon, May 15||Heat at Knicks||8 p.m. ET, TNT|
|* If necessary|
However, there will be a different feeling when the Knicks and Heat meet again. But that classic rivalry has been reborn.
“It’s like seeing an old friend after so many years,” a longtime Heat exec told ESPN. “You pick up right where you left off.”
While the two franchises have plenty of historic beef, a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals is at stake. And ahead of Sunday’s first game at MSG, the following could decide Knicks-Heat, the most surprising second-round matchup of the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
1. What’s an encore for Jimmy Buckets?
Jimmy Butler continued his 56-game feat to help Miami comeback from 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 4 with a 42-point result in Game 5, again helping Miami come from their 16-dead in the fourth fourth to stun the top seed Milwaukee Bucks in overtime and end their season.
Butler will need a replay for Miami to advance to the East Finals. Especially with Tyler Herro out with a broken hand, the onus is on Butler to lift the heat.
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Butler meets Thibodeau, his former coach with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. Not only does New York have a few strong athletic wings to potentially throw at Butler – Josh Hart, Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett – Thibodeau will likely send more doubles teams at Butler. During their entire first-round loss, the Bucks only threw seven doubles teams at Butler, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
2. What is Julius Randle’s injury status?
The all-star forward suffered a sprained ankle late in the regular season that threatened his availability for New York’s first-round series against Cleveland. Then, after coming back and struggling in that series, Randle injured his ankle again in Game 5.
When asked about Randle’s status on Friday, Thibodeau Randle said: “Hasn’t done much today but he’s feeling a little bit better.
“So go through rehab, see where he is [Saturday]. He’s better today than he was [Thursday], and that was the big thing. So we’re confident.”
Randle shot just 33.8% for the series against Cleveland, including 8-for-34 from 3-point range. When Randle enters the court, it should help to be up against smaller Heat defenders compared to Cleveland greats Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
3. Can Miami’s Hot 3-Point Shooting Continue?
During the regular season, the Heat ranked 27th in 3-point shooting, averaging 34.4%. While the playoffs had virtually the same number of 3s per game, that number rose to 45%, which is the highest in the 16-team field. (Miami also rose to second in the playoffs from 25th in the regular season.)
Fourth in the NBA on offense in the regular season, New York should be able to overtake Miami — especially with Heat gunner Herro injured. Miami will need shooters like Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Kevin Love, Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry to keep burying triples.
4. Which side controls the glass?
Led by center Mitchell Robinson and Hart, the Knicks dominated the offensive glass in the first round, repeatedly taking advantage of a Cavaliers team that ranked 20th in defensive rebound rate in the regular season and routinely played with a two-man lineup.
The Knicks are unlikely to enjoy a similar advantage this series, as Miami has the fourth-best defensive rebound rate during the regular season. Much of the color fight could revolve around Love, who at 34 is still an excellent rebounder and shooter.
But if New York is able to control the offensive boards the same way they did against Cleveland, those second chances on offense for the Knicks will become massive.
5. What will Bam Adebayo bring offensively?
Much of Miami’s ability to keep up this series will depend on the Heat, a team that has been challenged offensively all season and continues to find ways to score. While Butler has shown he can carry Miami’s offense virtually alone, Adebayo’s effectiveness at his side will be key.
The Bucks repeatedly challenged Adebayo to shoot from the elbow during their first-round streak, opting for center Brook Lopez to sit back near the rim. New York has a similar edge threat in Robinson. But if Adebayo is feeling good – he’s been struggling with a hamstring strain – and can deliver an offensive punch – he’s made a triple-double in Miami’s Game 5 Series clincher – it could make all the difference if Thibodeau decides two defenders on the throwing red-hot butler.
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