By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Heat | Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday | 8:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (19-27): The Knicks are scoring 116.5 points per game over their last four games, all wins. Their margin of victory is 23.3 points -- a sign of just how dominant they've been during the streak. Carmelo Anthony has returned to the role of small-ball power forward in Andrea Bargnani's absence, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive: 37.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the All-Star starter. Perhaps most importantly, the blowout wins have allowed him to rest some; he's logged only 34.4 minutes per contest during this stretch, down from his league-leading 38.7 season average.
Miami (32-13): When a team has been to three straight NBA Finals and won the last two, it becomes tough to evaluate them during the regular season, especially before the All-Star break. Some suggest the Heat are "coasting," as they trail the Indiana Pacers by three games in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Miami features the NBA's 2nd best offense, but has room for improvement with it's 13th-ranked D. The Heat will be looking for revenge after a loss at MSG back on January 9, and are coming off a stunning 17-point loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, a game they led by 18 in the 1st quarter.
The Numbers Game
Tim Hardaway Jr. is coming off a career-high 29-point performance against the Cavaliers on Thursday, in which he shot 11 for 17 from the floor and knocked down six 3-pointers to tie a Knicks rookie record.
Matchup to Watch
Raymond Felton vs. Mario Chalmers
One underrated aspect of the Knicks' offensive resurgence has been Felton's steady floor leadership. As he's returned to health from early season hamstring issues, his chemistry in the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler has made New York's offense more dynamic by sucking defenders into the lane and opening things up on the perimeter. He faces a challenge tonight, going up against Chalmers' length; the Heat's defense is predicated on ball pressure and smart rotations, so a Knicks win could hinge on Felton's decision-making and composure.
What to Look For
The defining characteristic of the Knicks' four-game win streak has been early execution. They've formed a habit out of blitzing opponents from the opening tip and putting games out of reach before halftime. Don't expect that to happen tonight against Miami... The Heat attack teams using a "pace and space" philosophy that emphasizes transition opportunities and maximizes LeBron James' playmaking talents by spreading shooters around the perimeter. Limiting turnovers is crucial for the Knicks because the Heat are as good as any team at turning them into points...With Iman Shumpert (shoulder) sidelined against Cleveland, J.R. Smith stepped into the starting lineup and delivered yet another solid performance, with 19 points. Over the last 10 games, the reigning 6th Man of the Year is averaging 15.5 points and shooting 45.8 percent from downtown. If Shump can't go tonight, expect more of the same tonight.