The New York Knicks are in the East Semis. As an added touch, their opponent is the longtime rival Miami Heat, led by the determined Jimmy Butler.
In a way, this series won’t be too different from facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. The Heat were right behind the Cavs with the No. 2 defense in the NBA and, much like their Cleveland counterparts, aren’t a great rebounding team. Miami was also the worst scoring team in the league.
But the playoffs are a different animal and the No. 8 Heat survived the play-in to upset the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks. And now, only their old rivals stand between them and the Conference Finals. The Knicks winning the regular season series 3-1 means nothing.
Who wins this classic rematch of vintage 1990s hoops?
- Game 1: Sunday April 30, 1:00 p.m. (ABC)
- Game 2: Tuesday May 2, TBD
- Game 3: Saturday May 6, TBD
- Game 4: Monday May 8, TBD
- Game 5: Monday May 10, TBD
- Game 6: Friday May 12, TBD
- Game 7: Monday May 15, TBD
Key matchup: Mitchell Robinson vs. Bam Adebayo. New York beat Cleveland by dominating the boards and, as we already mentioned, the Heat aren’t a great rebounding team. What’s more is that Adebayo averaged 20.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, and is a far better scorer than Robinson.
But Mitchell Robinson has lately been like a man possessed in the paint. He basically bullied both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, becoming a full rebounding machine and making the Cavs’ defense a non-factor.
Robinson is also a far better defender than Adebayo across the board. Don’t be surprised if the battles on the glass decide the series again.
X-Factor: RJ Barrett. It’s a safe bet Julius Randle’s ankle won’t be fully healthy for a while and the Knicks need Barrett to keep rolling. He finally found his scoring touch against the Cavaliers, so much that we named him the MVP of the series. The Knicks would love for Barrett to keep running hot, especially since he posted 21.3 points per game against Miami in the regular season.
More importantly, the Knicks need RJ Barrett to show up on defense since he’ll likely have to guard Jimmy Butler. For context, the Heat’s one-man V8 engine averaged 37.6 points on nearly 60% shooting against Milwaukee. He’s a big reason the Heat are running hot and punching above their weight, and Barrett can slow him down.
Remember, it was Barrett’s defense on Darius Garland that slowed Cleveland’s offense in Game 1. Between him, Josh Hart, and maybe Quentin Grimes guarding Butler, Miami could get tired fast.
Injuries: Julius Randle (ankle, questionable), Quentin Grimes (shoulder, questionable), Tyler Herro (hand, out), Victor Oladipo (knee, out)
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Josh Hart (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Heat predicted starters: Gabe Vincent (PG), Max Strus (SG), Jimmy Butler (SF), Kevin Love (PF), Bam Adebayo (C)
Prediction: So here we are again. Two old foes meeting in the playoffs once again. From those hard battles of the ’90s to the more recent LeBron James “Heatles,” the story writes itself. The New York Knicks and Miami Heat don’t like each other, especially this time of year.
And though the Knicks are the far better, healthier team on paper, do we really think they’ll steamroll the Heat like they did the Cavs? We’ve noted both Cleveland and Miami’s similarities, but unlikely. There’s too much history between both teams to not expect at least a little drama. Butler is also playing so well that he might win the Heat some games on sheer will.
But it’s important to note that as exciting as the Heat upsetting Giannis Antetokounmpo and the No. 1 Bucks is, let’s be honest. They overachieved and were largely helped by both Giannis’ missing a key Game 3 with injury, plus a Milwaukee defense in disarray. New York, by comparison, looks more focused than ever.
The refs will let them play. Jimmy Butler will go off some nights. Games will go back and forth again and again. Fate will do the rest and in the end, New York’s dream continues. Knicks in seven.