By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Heat | Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: TNT (MSG Postgame)
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (12-22): After a slow start to the season, the Knicks have begun to find their groove in the new year. Winners of three of four, the most recent coming Tuesday at MSG against Detroit, they picked a good time to get on a roll, with the defending champs coming to town tonight. It's no coincidence that the recent hot streak coincides with Carmelo Anthony's return from and ankle injury, as well as Iman Shumpert's emergence in 2014. The duo has given the Knicks the type of spacing and offensive firepower that prompted teammates to compare this stretch to the success of last season.
Miami (27-8): One game behind Indiana in the Eastern Conference standings, the Heat remain one of, if not the, leading title contenders. They are in the top 10 in both offense (2nd) and defense (9th), making calls of their demise extremely premature. LeBron James is having another MVP-level season, averaging 25.5 points, 6.5 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game with striking efficiency. Chris Bosh, the less-heralded member of Miami's "Big Three," doesn't get the recognition he deserves -- according to Knicks assistant coach Jim Todd -- but he is an integral part of its success on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade, 31, has battled injuries to his lower half for the last few years, and after missing this morning's shootaround, he will be a game-time decision. Starting point guard Mario Chalmers has been ruled out, as well.
The Numbers Game
Interesting matchup tonight. NYK has league's lowest TO rate. MIA forcing more TOs than any team in last 15 seasons: pic.twitter.com/ARifQIqNFa— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) January 9, 2014
Matchup to Watch
Carmelo Anthony vs. LeBron James
Both are superstars, both can dominate a game in a variety of ways, playing a number of positions. As hybrid "forwards" they are both phenomenal rebounders; Melo is pulling down a career-best 8.6 boards per game and LeBron is at 6.7. James is a natural facilitator, while Anthony's development in that area has been crucial to the Knicks' recent success.
What to Look For
Tyson Chandler (upper respiratory infection) and Beno Udrih (inflamed tibiofibular joint) are both listed as doubtful for tonight...In four games since returning from a sprained ankle, Anthony is scoring 26.3 points with 7.8 rebounds per game -- numbers that are right in line with his season averages. What's impressive is his efficiency from downtown: In 4.5 three-point attempts per game over the last four, Melo is connecting on 61.1 percent... Tonight should be a battle of ball movement and ball security; if the Knicks can limit turnovers, work for open shots and get back in transition, they'll have a good shot to top the Heat for the fourth time in five matchups.