HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Twice already this season the New York Knicks showed themselves to be a worthy Eastern Conference adversary to the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat.
We’re not talking about some computer simulation or some theoretical conversation between smart guys at an analytics convention. This was flesh and blood work, the Knicks stroking the Heat twice (on Nov. 2 and again on Dec. 6) by 20 points each time.
In any other situation that would give the team with a 40-point cushion in the season’s first two matchups (the second time without their own MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony). But much has changed since that last meeting between these two outfits.
The Heat enter today’s game at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET, ABC) riding the wave of the best stretch of basketball LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have played since joining forces in Miami. Winners of 13 straight games, the Heat we’ve seen recently don’t resemble the team the Knicks took apart at the start of this season.
Instead of waiting until the postseason to lock down, the Heat have tightened things up earlier this season. They are not only dominating the competition, they are serving notice nightly that they don’t believe anyone else in the league is on their level.
Bosh said it best, perhaps, while praising James after his rare off night (18 points on 4-for-14 shooting in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies) during recent tear. “He’s the best player in the world,” Bosh said. “But we have the best supporting cast.”
The Knicks have won three straight games themselves, but they’re not the same team they were in November and December, when they were raining 3-pointers from all directions and defending at the highest level.
Their 17-15 record since mid-December is indicative of a team that is barely better than average. They finished January with a 6-5 record and February with a 7-6 record, hardly the stuff of champions.
This afternoon’s test will shed more light on the Knicks’ recent struggles or provide them a stage to prove that their funk was momentary and that they are still capable of competing with the best of the best.
Surely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has warned his crew that the Heat will show up looking to make a statement of their own. Not only are they still smarting from those two, 20-point whoopins they took earlier this season, they are intent on making sure the Knicks understand that things have changed.
“Absolutely,” Knicks All-Star center Tyson Chandler told ESPNNewYork.com. They know that we got them here and embarrassed them at their house, so we expect them to come here fired up,” Chandler said. “They’re the champs for a reason they’re not laying down for anybody. It should be a dog fight.”
A big dog picking on a little dog or two big dogs going at it?
We’ll know for sure this afternoon!