Posted Apr 8 2011 10:18AM
You can find a number of folks who don't like the Knicks, and a greater number who don't like the Heat, but very few who wouldn't like Knicks vs. Heat.
Really, what's not to like, or even love, about this possible first-round playoff matchup? It would be the clear winner, in terms of general interest, of all matchups. In the basketball dreams of David Stern and the TV networks, Knicks v. Heat is the perfect lead-in to the always-anticipated playoffs, a hors d'oeuvre of gluttonous proportions, a series between two rivals who look nothing like they did before.
Most of the other potential matchups appear about as one-sided as Stern vs. Stan Van Gundy, with a few exceptions (Thunder-Nuggets could be tense). None has the history of Heat-Knicks, which previously took place in a steel cage. Nor does any other series swing this much swagger.
Heat-Knicks would re-stir the debate about star players joining up for a common goal and allow us to take that temperature once again. And because the playoffs are all about big names and what they're capable of doing in big moments, these teams have a few players worth watching (emphasis on a few, considering both teams are heavy with role players).
You want evidence, subplots, reasons to care? Look no further:
LeBron revisits the Garden. LeBron understands and respects the history of the game and carries special appreciation for the iconic status of the Garden. And so he tends to show up and show off in the building, once scoring 52 points, and earlier this season getting a massive triple double. Because he feels a kinship with the beautiful people sitting courtside, he feels a need to give them what they came to see. And it won't hurt that opinionated Knicks fans, perhaps still feeling the burn of being spurned last summer, might give LeBron extra incentive.
"It's the history, it's the crowd, it's the atmosphere," he said about the Garden. "It's a special play to play."
Mike D'Antoni, his system and the playoffs. You can always wonder what would have happened had Robert Horry not cheap-shotted Steve Nash in 2007: Would D'Antoni still be carrying around that annoying perception that he can't win in the playoffs? In any event, he's yet to demonstrate an ability to get a team past a conference final. There's serious skepticism about his system and whether it's built for the postseason, where the pace is slowed and the court shrinks. That knock against D'Antoni is unlikely to disappear in this series because, even if the Knicks wanted to embrace defense, they lack the defensive tools. Their best players (Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony) are lazy if not indifferent defenders, although when the Knicks held Miami to 86 points five weeks ago, Stoudemire did swat LeBron's game-winning layup attempt.
LeBron vs. 'Melo. They'll be matched together in most situations. The last two minutes of a tight game could be especially interesting, with each player willing and able to go into isolation mode. In the Feb. 27 game, 'Melo pumped in 29 points and LeBron 27. They're friends, but would you be surprised if, in the heat of battle, things get physical?
'Melo and Stoudemire and the ball. The developing chemistry between two players who need the ball will bear watching in such a series. You can almost see both players being anxious, maybe too anxious, to prove themselves. Their relationship doesn't need to be examined during good times; when players win, they're always happy. But what if the Knicks are getting whipped and either 'Melo or Stoudemire is misfiring? That's when you begin to sense tension between stars and when egos begin to flare. That's when it gets fun.
LeBron and winning. That series against the Celtics last year is starting to get heavy around his neck. The only way to make anyone forget about it (well, outside of Cleveland anyway) is to produce big in the postseason. A powerful performance against the Knicks would be a start, because if nothing else, the New York media, as usual, would make it bigger than it is.
Wade and stamina and health. Has anyone who looks so healthy and plays so effortlessly ever been so vulnerable to injury? That's Wade for you. He rarely gets through a season without grabbing a body part. You wonder if another long season will take its toll on Wade at some point in the next month or so. Besides, he'll need to play at a high level almost nightly to give Miami a legit title shot. That's how thin the supporting cast is behind Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh.
Garden restoration. The last time the building heard playoff noise was April of 2004, and it was boos, because the Knicks were swept by the Nets. The long dry spell will end in a few weeks, finally giving the NBA a springtime presence in the league's largest market. The Knicks are hardly ready to go deep in the postseason, but at this point, starved fans will be happy just with a few home games. Yes, it's been that painful of a decade in New York.
Last stand for Donnie Walsh. There's no guarantee of a return next season for Walsh, and you wonder if he'd even want to stay on the job. He wasn't a big fan of surrendering so much for 'Melo but was overruled by owner James Dolan, who joined the negotiations. Anyway, age and health might be enough for Walsh to ask himself, "Why bother, with Isiah Thomas warming up in the bullpen?'"
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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