NBA Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks

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SEASON RECORDS


Miami 46-20 (2 seed)
New York: 36-30 (7 seed)

SEASON SERIES


Miami won the season series 3-0, though the Knicks did hang around for a while in those games. Horseshoes and hand grenades, and all that.

KEY INJURIES

Miami: Mike Miller has an injured “everything you could ever possibly imagine” but is probable for Game 1. Dwyane Wade has dealt with myriad injuries, but again, is available. He most recently suffered a dislocated finger.

New York: Jeremy Lin is out with swelling in his knee for the entire first round.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
New York: offense 104.4 (17th); defense 101 (5th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: Shocker. The most versatile, best, and most pressured player in the world is the most important. Stunning. James, because of who he has, pretty much has to average a triple-double, defend Carmelo Anthony in crunch time, and hit the game winning shot in a four-game sweep to satisfy people. Then they’ll claim he’s showing off.

Chris Bosh: Bosh has gotten a moderate amount of rest and so rust might be a factor. Bosh needs to stretch the floor to force the Knicks to put Tyson Chandler on him which will bring him away from the paint and open up things for the Heat to attack the rim.

Mike Miller: The Knicks can get hot and hit from deep. To counter that, Miller needs to hit some shots. He’s going to get great looks. He has to knock them down at a high rate.

THREE KEY KNICKS

Tyson Chandler:  Chandler helped the Mavericks shut down the Heat in last yea’s Finals with help defense. The Knicks need more of the same and for him to take a bigger chunk of the offense against Miami, attacking their weak spot at center. Without Chandler having a strong series, the Knicks won’t be able to hang with the onslaught.

J.R. Smith: Smith could honestly swing this series. If he can heat up and stay warm, the Heat defense can’t help on Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire. Do that, and the Heat’s scheme starts to unravel. Smith needs to play the Jason Terry role for the Mavs’ model to beat the Heat.

Steve Novak: Novak’s going to hit shots. But the bigger issue for him is not getting killed on defense. Udonis Haslem has had trouble with his offense at times this season. All Novak has to to do is avoid being a weakpoint the Heat can isolate. If Mike Woodson can afford to keep him on the floor, space opens up and again, that’s the key to hurting Miami’s defense.

OUTLOOK

You want superstars? You get superstars. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Steve Nova… just kidding.

The key for New York is getting the Heat into their isolation sets where they struggle, and keeping them out of transition. Baron Davis has to keep the turnovers down, and the Knicks can’t afford stupid plays. Those lead to turnovers which is where the Heat want to play, up and down. New York needs to punish them inside when their defense stretches out to guard their shooters, and hurt them from the perimeter when the defense collapses. New York has the personnel to do it.

Doing it is a whole other matter.

Miami is just so talented and executes at such a high level. It wouldn’t shock me to see this series go seven, but for now, we’ll put faith in the Eastern Conference Champs to lock down a predictable Melo-centric offense.

PREDICTION

Miami wins 4-2.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala questionable for Game 5

AP Photo
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Andre Iguodala missed the Warriors’ Game 4 loss to the Rockets with a leg injury.

It’s not certain he – or Klay Thompson, who played through a knee injury suffered in Game 4 – will be available for Game 5 tomorrow.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson, who suffered a left knee strain during the first half of Game 4, is listed as questionable, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iguodala missed Game 4 with a left lateral leg contusion and is questionable for Game 5.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Iguodala:

He’s feeling a little better today, and he’s out on the floor. Not doing a whole lot, but making progress.

Kerr on Thompson:

Klay is moving around really well. I think Klay is going to be fine.

That sounds better than “questionable” for Thompson.

The Warriors need one, maybe both, of those two on the court. Golden State’s depth, especially on the wing, is looking shaky.

In Game 4, Golden State outscored Houston by 20 in the 31 minutes Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green played together. In the in the 17 minutes they played without even one of those stars, the Warriors got outscored by 23. Nick Young, who received more playing time when Thompson left the court area due to his injury, looked particularly overwhelmed.

James Harden‘s defense is a huge bellwether in this series. The Warriors spend a lot of focus trying to exploit him, and if that fails, the shot clock gets low before they move into another action. If Thompson is even just slowed, that’d make it easier for Harden to keep up.