11:01 am Apr. 16, 2012
Late in the first half of New York's 93-85 loss to the Miami Heat Sunday at Madison Square Garden, two plays illustrated the talent gap between the Knicks and the Heat.
The remaining Knicks star, Carmelo Anthony, was trading baskets with Miami's two stars, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. All three were having the kind of games envisioned by their two teams when they were signed to max contracts. And the only way to stop them was overpursuit, which was going to leave someone else wide open.
The Knicks overpursued first, allowing Miami to kick out to James Jones in the corner, who calmly sank a three-pointer.
Miami followed suit, and Anthony brilliantly found a wide-open Landry Fields, who missed badly on a 17-footer.
The sequence was a reminder that not only did Miami have three elite scorers to rely on Sunday—James, Wade and Chris Bosh—compared to the lone Anthony on the New York side, but that they also have more secondary weapons by far than the Knicks, who right now are banged up and missing many key parts.
While the loss protended bad things about a possible playoff series with Miami (which won the season series with New York 3-0), it also made it a near-certainty that if they make the playoffs, the Knicks will face either the Heat or the Bulls.
Let's assume for the moment that Anthony, who had 42 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a brilliant individual effort, plays every bit as well in a playoff series with Miami. The Heat can boast of two such players in James and Wade. New York's other two candidates to provide some measure of that production, Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire, have been out for weeks.
Tyson Chandler is a better defensive center than anyone Miami has, but Chris Bosh is the better offensive player by far, and the two essentially play to a tie in the stat Player Efficiency Rating on the season.
And Miami, though its bench has been criticized all season, can produce more able bodies than New York can by far. If Jones is their Steve Novak, with better defense, so is Mike Miller. Both Miller and Jones shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range. Other than Novak, no Knick has even cracked the 33 percent mark from long range, though J.R. Smith, at 32.7 percent, tries to make it up in volume.
And so it goes, right down the line. Miami has a pair of point guards in Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers who can pressure opponents defensively and make shots at the offensive end. New York has just Baron Davis, who is playing through multiple injuries, and no one else. Miami's defensive enforcer, Shane Battier, is healthy and effective, even contributing a nearly 34 percent mark from three-point range. New York's defensive enforcer, Jared Jeffries, is limited to 15 minutes, max, with a knee injury, and shouldn't be anywhere near a shot attempt anywhere on the court. Miami can bring on the defensive stalwart Joel Anthony to spell Bosh; New York's backup center is ... Jeffries, who has that 15-minute max.
That the Knicks still managed to stay with Miami, actually leading, 79-75 with 8:07 left in the game, is a credit to their superior defensive effort, and to what appeared to be Miami's fluctuating enthusiasm throughout the game. It is hard to imagine the Heat failing to bring their maximum effort over the full 48 minutes come playoff time.
Meanwhile, the Knicks find themselves in the eighth position in the Eastern Conference right now, a half-game behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who play Orlando tonight. It is hard to see New York finishing anywhere but seventh or eighth, since the Knicks trail six seed Orlando by four games with six to play.
The math is similarly problematic against the Celtics, though the Knicks to face Boston on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The pesky Bucks, meanwhile, are just two games behind the Knicks, with a very winnable game against Washington on Wednesday night.
As of now, it looks like the Knicks will be facing a Bulls or Heat team that will bring more talent to a short series than New York can manage. Only the return of Amar'e Stoudemire—a Wednesday possibility, reportedly—can change that equation any, with Stoudemire's ability to dominate as he did prior to his back injury an obvious question.
And this ever-changing 2012 Knicks team will have one more chance to shift its identity, from likely first-round playoff loser to something a little more dignified.