The Knicks were on a historic franchise tear, knocking down three-pointers at a rapid-fire pace, outhustling and outdefending every opponent, and rested atop the Eastern Conference.
Miami was still much like the team that won last year’s championship, but they weren’t overwhelming opponents on a nightly basis, and struggled to clean the glass.
As they meet Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Heat reign with the second best record in the NBA, and the Knicks suffered two loss streaks of three or more games over the last two months and are six back from Miami.
New York has defeated the Heat twice already this season, each by 20 points, and largely let Miami’s incumbent MVP LeBron James go wild, while containing the rest of the club, and launching 18 three-pointers back on Dec. 6. The Knicks had a huge chip on their shoulder after Miami eliminated them 4-1 in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Most of the Heat’s success can be attributed to James’ monumental run in February. The 28-year-old star averaged 29.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.8 assists and shot 43 percent from three and 64 percent overall from the floor.
Miami went 12-1 through February, and are currently riding a 13-game win streak after dropping the Memphis Grizzlies 98-91 Friday with James struggling.
With James going 4-for-14, Dwyane Wade stepped up with 22 points and eight assists, and Shane Battier came off the bench to knock down four of five three pointers for 14 points. Poor shooting aside, James nearly pulled off a triple double with 18 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists.
For Miami, a win against the Knicks is pivotal, especially with their 0-2 record against the No. 3 Indiana Pacers. The Knicks are 1-2 against the Pacers this season, and will have to watch their backs for the final 27 games.
Miami is still struggling on the boards, ranking last in the league, but the Knicks aren't exactly cleaning the glass either.
New York is 21st overall in rebounding, with center Tyson Chandler averaging 11.4 boards per game, and the next closest Knick, Carmelo Anthony, pulling down 6.4 a contest.
After escaping Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his 54 points and 11 three-pointers earlier this week, the Knicks toppled the Washington Wizards 96-88 for their third straight win.
Anthony scored 30 points, and point guard Raymond Felton went 9-for-18 for 23 points, while the Knicks struggled from three, shooting 28 percent.
New York head coach Mike Woodson turned a few heads by inserting reserve guard James White into the starting lineup in place of former All-Star Jason Kidd, who has shot below 20 percent from the field in his last 10 games.
The game tips off at 1 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast by ABC.
Betting Odds: Miami is favored by 4.5 points
Over/Under: 198 points
Prediction: Defending the perimeter, and forcing James to shoot jump shots disrupts the Heat’s flow, New York will largely try to contain Wade, and keep Chandler out of foul trouble. Anthony will get his points, and Felton should have some early success penetrating and dishing out to the three-point line. In the fourth, James will take over on both ends and carry Miami to a big road victory.
Predicted Score: Miami 104, New York 98