by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
Somewhere, David Stern has a shit-eating grin on his face.
Less than six months removed from a PR nightmare that nearly saw the NBA lose the regular season in its entirety, the rigorous regular season left behind a whirlwind of stories, injuries and memorable performances. I won’t sit here and bore you with a season recap since you will surely be bombarded with those types of pieces over the next 24 hours, but I will say this—David Stern’s legacy should (and most likely will) be tarnished.
With one day of rest between the regular season and the Playoffs, players will be limping into the “real” season. Despite all the injuries, elbows, tanking and teams relocating, Stern still got exactly what he wanted: a first-round matchup between the Knicks and Heat. It’s a series that will surely trump every other story surrounding the NBA at the moment and provide great theater over the next few weeks.
Not only do the two teams have a well-documented, violent history with each other, the series will feature: Four of the biggest and most marketable stars playing in the NBA; the potential MVP; the potential Defensive Player of the Year; three guys with rings; and arguably the hottest player in the game right now. Both teams have had been under a microscope all season and the drama is bound to intensify.
Is this the year LeBron wins that elusive ring? Who takes the shots in crunch time for Miami? Can Melo continue to carry the team on his back? Are the Knicks finally living up to the pre-season hype?
As a fan, you really can’t ask for more.
And that’s exactly what David Stern wants.
Let’s get to the matchups:
Remember Jeremy Lin? It almost seems like the whole thing never even happened. Now the Knicks roll into the Playoffs with a point guard rotation of Davis/Mike Bibby/Toney Douglas/Iman Shumpert—a crop that won’t be keeping the Heat up at night. While Davis has been playing at least a little bit better as of late, he’s not healthy and has been a walking turnover for New York. The Knicks can’t afford to turn the ball over since the Heat thrive in the open court and will need at least average play from the point to have a shot. For Miami, Mario Chalmers is a guy who can provide a spark plus he’s a confident player who has a track record of hitting big shots (‘08 NCAA Championship, anybody?) and as long as he plays within himself he’ll remain on the court. If all else fails Miami can just slide LeBron over to the 1 where he has the ability to take over a game.
Dwyane Wade has been bothered by a litany of injuries—which caused him to sit for 17 games this season—and is hurting coming into the series thanks to a dislocated finger he suffered last week. Of course, Wade won’t let the injury hold him back, and he will be out competing in full force. But Shumpert can match him both physically and athletically and may cause problems on the defensive end. While Landry Fields will most likely get the start, Shumpert will probably see a majority of the minutes due to his defensive prowess and ability to match-up with Wade. But, this is also the rook’s first time in the Playoffs, while Wade is a vet with Championship experience and still has the ability to take over a game. Shump will win a few battles throughout the series, but DWade will ultimately win the war.
Getting the chance to see these two duke it out over a series will be a real treat to watch. Here are two of the most physically gifted players in the game pitted against each other while they are both playing some some of the best basketball of their careers. LeBron just wrapped up one of the best seasons of all time, is the favorite in the MVP race, and is fully focused on winning a ring. After being maligned for much of the season, Melo has been on a tear down the stretch. Everyone knows he can score, but what has been most surprising is the effort he has put forth on the defensive end. While it’s pretty certain that LeBron will do more for his team overall, this matchup is a push due to their crunch-time tendencies. It boils down to a simple question: When the game is on the line, who do you want taking the last shot? I’m taking Carmelo all day and twice on Sundays.
I was shocked to see that Bosh and STAT’s season splits are identical. To say that both of these guys have underperformed would be an understatement. While I can sympathize for STAT who has been battling what seems like a serious back injury and the loss of his brother, Bosh’s performance has been inexplicable. It would seem that after a year of playing with two of the best players in the world, he would be able to take advantage of his role and average 20 and 10 a night; but he just doesn’t. Even though both have underwhelmed, they each have shown in the past that they can dominate so I won’t count them out just yet.
The combination Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem will provide a decent presence in the paint for the Heat, but let’s be honest: This matchup is all about Tyson Chandler. Chandler was, simply put, the best signing of the offseason. The center came in and completely changed the culture of the organization and turned the Knicks into a top-10 defensive team (statistically, anyway). His hustle, enthusiasm and hard work have been contagious in the locker room and the Knicks owe a huge part of this Playoff appearance to his performance. The center should win Defensive Player of the Year and his presence may swing the series in the Knicks’ favor.
Prediction: This matchup will live up the hype. While the Heat have the better starting five, the Knicks are much deeper and have lethal shooters in JR Smith and Steve Novak coming off the bench. If they can get hot, and stay hot, throughout the series, the Heat will be in trouble. But, Miami is also one of the top defensive teams in the NBA and if the Knicks go on any sort of extended cold stretch or have turnover problems, they will get run over. The first two games in South Beach will be crucial and with all eyes on this series and a few games sure to come down to the wire, LeBron will fold under the pressure just enough for New York to capitalize and steal one of the first two games. The Garden will be rockin’ once the Knicks return home and Melo has been unstoppable. Combine that with the Knicks’ depth, their loyalty toward Coach Woodson and the presence of Tyson Chandler, and New York moves on, making for another historic chapter in the Knicks-Heat Playoff feud.
Knicks Win 4-3.