Knicks vs. Heat 1 PM
Where to Watch: ABC
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
New York: With their backs firmly placed against the wall, the Knicks have responded with momentum shifting wins over Orlando, Chicago, and Milwaukee in April. Despite missing Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup, New York is 7-3 in its last 10 outings while climbing to the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. At 31-28 on the season, seven games remain on the schedule for the Knicks, including two crucial contests against Miami on Sunday and Boston on Tuesday night at MSG. Iman Shumpert suffered an ankle sprain in Friday’s blowout win over Washington but he expects to be ready for the Heat. Stoudemire is not quite prepared to hit the floor on Sunday as he rehabs from a bulging disk in his back.
Miami: At this point in the season, the Heat were expected to be the top seed in the playoffs and prohibitive favorite to capture the 2011-12 NBA Championship. With Dwyane Wade battling a sore ankle and Miami falling four times in its last four outings, questions marks surround the East’s No. 2 team. Wade was sidelined for Friday’s game but he expects to return for the matchup against the Knicks. It’s important to note that the Heat have faced a rigorous schedule with games against Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Chicago over the last 14 days. Sunday’s contest marks a potential first round matchup for Miami, however, the bumpy road to the postseason will continue with the Bulls and Celtics on the horizon.
Last Time Out
New York: In an overwhelming 103-65 win over the Wizards, the Knicks cruised while providing some rest for the starters in preparation for the most important two games of the season on Sunday and Tuesday.
Miami: Wade, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and Ronny Turiaf all missed Friday’s game against the Bobcats but the Heat had no issues in a 105-82 win over Charlotte.
The Numbers Game
New York is 9-0 under interim head coach Mike Woodson in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden.
Match-up to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. LeBron James
Assuming Shumpert’s ankle is not an issue; the rookie will see significant time on the MVP candidate at the small forward position. LeBron James is enjoying a sparkling season, leading the Heat in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Miami relies on James to score and distribute at a high rate and he can impact a game in a variety of ways. Shumpert owns the size and strength to slow James but this is a monumental task on Sunday afternoon. James likes to initiate his offense at the top of the 3-point line with a full head of steam, looking to finish with either hand around the rim. He is also an absolute freight train in the open floor by streaking out in transition off turnovers. Defensively, James will create havoc, attacking above the rim and on the ball to create fast break opportunities for the Heat.
What to Look For
The two games in Miami did not bode well for the Knicks as they struggled to score against the Heat’s impressive defensive schemes. Miami ranks No. 6 in points allowed per game and its individual defenders are at the elite level in terms of their ability to lockdown opponents on the perimeter. With Woodson at the helm, New York can now match the Heat from a defensive standpoint. The interesting aspect to this matchup is how each coach will approach the assignments for their squad. James will most likely defend Carmelo Anthony, regardless of his recent move to the power forward spot. The key statistics to watch are the rebounding numbers and second chance points. Miami is a poor rebounding team and the Knicks should dominate the glass with Tyson Chandler’s board work from the center position. The outcome of this game will allow New York to gauge its viability to potentially upset a team like the Heat or Bulls in the first round of the postseason.