Though he still doesn’t think the Knicks will be able to get it done, ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh (ESPN Insider required for link) does point out that the Knicks may be uniquely built to give the Heat problems, as they play at the correct pace and with the proper spacing to wreak havoc on the Heat’s defense:
And that’s great news for Knicks fans because if you’re drawing up a blueprint to slay a giant like the Heat, playing slow (which means fewer possessions back and forth) and firing up 3s is the way to go. Those who have played pickup basketball against a much better team know exactly what I’m talking about. Underdogs at the local YMCA want to play 1s and 2s, first team to seven points, right? That’s because the longer a game goes, the more likely the better team wins — and the less likely a high-variance strategy (shooting from beyond the arc) will work out for the underdog.
Same thing goes for the Knicks against the Heat. Of course, this isn’t the YMCA, and the Knicks can’t play “first team to seven points,” but they do employ a style that effectively shortens the game. The ‘Bockers average only 92.1 possessions per game. During the 13-game win streak, the team’s tempo has slowed to a crawl — to 89.1 possessions per game, which would easily rank last in the NBA if it lasted a whole season.
And fewer possessions for the Knicks also mean fewer opportunities for LeBron James,Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to assert their talent advantage. That’s true even though Miami should benefit more than any other team from a tightened playoff rotation (as my colleague Bradford Doolittle pointed out recently).
It’s becoming increasingly hard to argue that any team without LeBron James has a realistic chance at an NBA title, and obviously there would be quite a bit of work to be done to even just get there, but I do think that the Knicks may be uniquely qualified to give Miami problems. The three-pointer can be neutralizing for even a team as powerful as Miami and though everyone’s been waiting for the Knicks’ three-point pace to fall off, it really just hasn’t. It’s hard to say if the Knicks could defend Miami’s own creative offense effectively enough to really threaten them, but I do think the Knicks would find little trouble scoring themselves.
My own thinking is that if the Knicks ever managed to get to the 1-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals with the series returning to MSG I would consider the season a success, anything after that would be the type of sweet gravy I haven’t totally allowed myself to consider.