The NBA In-Season Tournament rolls on with a classic rivalry match for the ages when the Miami Heat visit the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Everyone knows that these teams don’t like each other. Coach Pat Riley resigned from the Knicks via fax to coach the Heat and the rest is history. Riley took his talents to South Beach 15 years before LeBron and spawned a rivalry that at one point rivaled the Yankees-Red Sox feud.
There’s extra fuel on the fire this time and not because it’s a tournament group play game. Miami beat New York in the East Semifinals last year, en route all the way to the NBA Finals. In a must-win tournament game, these Knicks should be plenty motivated.
Time: Friday Nov. 24, 7:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Knicks -5.5, Over/Under 212 via DraftKings
Injuries: Evan Fournier (Ankle; day-to-day), R.J. Hampton (Knee, OUT), Tyler Herro (Ankle, OUT), Dru Smith (Knee, OUT), Bam Adebayo (Hip; questionable), Duncan Robinson (Thumb; questionable)
Key Storyline: Knicks control their destiny in latest Heat tilt. We all remember the playoff series between New York and Miami last season. It was a tight six games, but Miami won out as a hobbled Julius Randle slowed the Knicks. However, this being an In-Season Tournament game means there is a path to redemption.
Randle is healthy and the Knicks have the league’s No. 2 defense. They’re about even in scoring with Miami, who is down a top shooter in Herro and may not have their star big in Adebayo either. Add the rowdy Garden Faithful, and the Knicks are playing with house money to start.
Key Matchup: Quentin Grimes vs. Jimmy Butler. It doesn’t matter that these two line up at different positions. Grimes is the Knicks’ best wing defender and Butler is Miami’s best scorer. Slowing him down, especially if Adebayo doesn’t play, should be New York’s top priority.
Butler is a year older at 34 and starting to slow down a bit, but he’s still highly effective. He’s averaging 20.5 points and is still a plus defender. His field goal percentage is down to about 46% compared to 54% last year but it doesn’t matter. Jimmy Butler is the heartbeat of the Heat offense and the Knicks won’t win without keeping him in check.
X-Factor: Julius Randle. To say that Randle needs to have a big game against the Heat is an understatement. Maybe it was his simply vanishing in the East Semis, maybe it was his sore ankle that later needed surgery. The fact of the matter is the Heat don’t have a ton of size behind Adebayo, giving Julius Randle a prime opportunity for a big game.
It helps that his percentages are on the rise after a slow start. If Adebayo does indeed sit out, Randle should have no problem dominating the paint and stuffing the statsheet accordingly.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Quentin Grimes (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Heat predicted starters: Kyle Lowry (PG), Caleb Martin (SG), Jimmy Butler (SF), Haywood Highsmith (PF), Bam Adebayo (C)
Prediction: Miami coach Erik Spoelstra goes the defense-first route and sits Duncan Robinson for Caleb Martin’s defense while Adebayo also suits up. However, the Knicks will be prepared for any lineup and just want to win this game, In-Season Tournament or not. Expect playoff vibes and a close score, even as the Knicks pull away late. Knicks defeat Heat 113-105