Knicks @ Heat 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
All the pieces molded together on Wednesday night as the Knicks bounced back to secure a definitive victory over the Hawks and improve to 17-17 on the season. New York has climbed to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings as the Celtics dropped to No. 8, the final cutoff line for the playoffs. No. 6 is in reach for the Knicks with one game remaining on the schedule before the All-Star break and some rare practice opportunities on the horizon. From February 29 to March 4, New York only has one game with the coaches and players all pointing to this point in the season as a pivotal stretch to generate cohesion and chemistry with the new group. Iman Shumpert is sidelined with tendinitis in his knee, Bill Walker did not travel to Miami, and Josh Harrellson is hoping for a return directly after the midseason break.
Riding the league’s longest winning streak, Miami is scorching hot with seven straight victories and a 26-7 overall record. Since defeating the Knicks on January 27, the Heat has only lost twice while demolishing their opponents in the process. Miami discovered the comfort zone more than a year removed from “The Decision” and constant hoopla surrounding the squad. Expectations remain high and only a title will validate the collaboration of the two best open floor players in the league. However, for the moment, the Heat is playing their best basketball behind a healthy roster. The Heat will try to take advantage of Thursday’s home game as the team will play six of their nine contest s on the road following the All-Star break.
Last Time Out
Five Knicks scored in double figures on Wednesday night to help the home team cruise to a 99-82 win over the Hawks.
Dwyane Wade dropped 30 points and dished out 10 assists in a Miami 120-108 victory of the Kings on Tuesday night.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks are near the top of the league in steals per game at 9.6. Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert have certainly helped that number increase over the last few weeks. New York feeds off the steals to create options in its fastbreak game. The acquisition of Smith should lift the Knicks to the No. 1 spot over the Grizzlies by season end.
Match-up to Watch
Carmelo Anthony vs. LeBron James
Fans missed the opportunity to see two of the premier small forwards square off in the first meeting between the Knicks and Heat. For this matchup, Anthony is still working his way back into the lineup after a significant layoff due to a strained groin. As Lin mentioned in his comments to the media, Anthony looked like he shook off the rust from his first game back on Monday against the Nets. In the rout over Atlanta, NewYork’s leading scorer was patient while finding his groove to score 15 points. Anthony will face his good friend on Thursday and the player that is on pace to capture his third MVP trophy. James is a one man wrecking crew, boasting averages of 27.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. Remarkably, King James is shooting a career-best 55 percent from the floor and an impressive 41.3 percent beyond the arc. Anthony and company will have their hands full defending James in the open floor and on the perimeter.
What to Look For
In the final game before the All-Star break, both teams are eyeing a momentum altering type of opportunity on Thursday. One would assume, Miami is hearing all the Linsanity chatter and preparing to make a statement on its home floor in front of nationally televised audience. On the flip side, the Knicks understand they need time to gel with the return of Anthony and Baron Davis and the addition of Smith. Defensively, New York must limit the devastating Heat fastbreak led by James and Wade. As soon as the rock hits the cylinder, Wade and/or James will jet out in the open floor for easy buckets near the rim. From an offensive standpoint, if Smith and Novak can drill three-pointers in the corner, the inside of the paint will open up for Lin, Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire to operate. Expect James to defend Lin for a portion of the game as Miami will attempt to take the ball out of his hands.