Knicks News: Are Bulls, Heat Or Pacers New York's Best Playoff Matchup?

COLUMN

on April 24 2012 10:38 PM
New York Knicks
The Knicks, who still have a chance at the No. 6 seed, could have an easier time in the first round if they clinch that seed and play the Pacers. (Reuters/Ray Stubblebine)

As of today, the New York Knicks are 34-30 and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but hold the tiebreaker should they still end up with the same record as the 76ers when the season is all said and done. In the first round of the playoffs, they would most likely play either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat, who both have yet to claim the Eastern Conference's top seed.

Still, and perhaps more beneficial, the Knicks can climb to the sixth seed if they win out and the Orlando Magic (36-28) loses out because they also own a tiebreaker over the Magic. As a result, they would play the third-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round, a team they beat twice in three meetings during the regular season.

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The Knicks, who still have a chance at the No. 6 seed, could have an easier time in the first round if they clinch that seed and play the Pacers. (Reuters/Ray Stubblebine)

The Pacers, to their credit, are possibly the hottest team right now, having won 12 of their last 14 games, and are still flying under the radar. Most aren't talking about them like the big market teams, yet they are third in the league in rebounding, 10th in points per game allowed, and 11th in points scored per game, all better rankings than New York.

At the same time, New York gave Indiana severe problems throughout the season thanks to some stifling defense of their own, blowing the Pacers out in steals, 25 to 15, and blocks, 21 to12. David West was held to just 20 points in the entire series, while forward Danny Granger was held to 47, guard Paul George was held to 41 and center Roy Hibbert was held 38.

Had Anthony played the final game of the series, and the Knicks not let slip away a 17-point lead in the third quarter, New York may have swept Indiana, but Granger displayed his dark horse shooting touch and helped his team get a win. He is the player for Indiana to watch if a Pacers-Knicks series ensues, and, for the Knicks, J.R. Smith, who scored 38 points off the bench throughout the regular season series, could be very dangerous.

Miami and Chicago are two different stories.

What make the Heat special are perimeter defense and transition baskets, while Chicago can crash the boards, score second-chance points and make timely shots.

Miami swept the regular season series 3-0 against the Knicks, particularly because the Knicks committed an atrocious total of 52 turnovers throughout that, in many instances, resulted in fast break scoring opportunities for the Heat. Of course, with forward LeBron James and guard Dwayne Wade running the open floor, the team capitalized on those opportunities, outscoring New York 43-21 in transition.

Miami's stickling defense didn't allow the Knicks to score in the paint either, which forced the latter into jacking up a lot of shots. Take the second game of the series for example when Jeremy Lin, a consistent penetrator, was held to just one of 11 from the field. His first and only basket was a contested layup. And, out of New York's 19 total turnovers that night, Lin had eight of them.

Whether Lin will return at any point during the first round, or even later if the Knicks advance that far, remains to be seen. But, with or without him, the Knicks can very well dig themselves into a huge hole, ending with an early postseason exit at the hands of the Heat, for two reasons: one, if they continue to crank up shots, especially three-pointers, like they did in the first game of the season series when they put up 43 from behind the arc, despite having outstanding shooters on the roster; and two, if they falter inside the paint, like they did throughout the season series, being outscored 134-80, despite having matchup advantages.

As for Chicago, some have speculated that the Knicks would match up best playing in the Windy City. The Knicks did keep things close for three out of the four games of the season series, including winning a thriller in overtime back on Apr. 8 after Carmelo Anthony hit both the game-tying regulation three-pointer and the eventual game-winning three-pointer. If the Knicks do indeed play the Bulls, it could be Anthony once again who lifts the former past the later in an upset.

On the other hand, one would be naïve to think Anthony could singlehandedly carry the Knicks past the first round. Yes, he could carry the offensive load for most of the series, similar to the season-high 43-point performance he put up against the Bulls in the overtime game.

But, the Knicks would be wise to continue playing the stellar defense they have exhibited recently, and specifically, the physical one they have exhibited against the Bulls throughout the season.

After all, Rose, who is hard-pressed to show emotion or complaint, alluded to that defense after the second game of the season series on Mar. 12.

I've got to be the only superstar in the league that's going through what I'm going through right now, Rose said. Can't say too much about it.

The problem for the Knicks won't be matchups, guarding or scoring, though. It will be constant tenaciousness on the glass on both sides of the ball that will give them the opportunity to score second-chance points-in effect taking a page out Chicago's playbook-and in transition.  

The Knicks have only the Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Bobcats remaining on their schedule, while the 76ers have the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons on theirs. It would seem as though that favors the Sixers, but with the Knicks having said they would make a run at the sixth seed, one should expect them to play both the Clippers and the Bobcats as if both games were playoff games. 

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