The lockout-shortened NBA season has flown by to its halfway point, and just before we take a break for the All-Star festivities taking place over the next couple of days, basketball fans will be treated to a star-studded match-up tonight as the Miami Heat (26-7, 14-2 home) play host to the New York Knicks (17-17, 7-8 away) at 7:00 PM ET at the American Airlines Arena in Miami Florida.
This match-up catches all the headlines as New York’s new phenom player Jeremy Lin (14.8 points/game, 5.9 assists/game) takes the court with Carmelo Anthony (21.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.2 apg) for the second straight night after thoroughly trouncing the Atlanta Hawks 99-82 last night at home. Despite dropping 2 of the last 4 games played at home, New York hasn’t yet seen a quality combined performance from Lin, Anthony, Amare Stoudamire (17.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and the newly acquired J.R. Smith (10.3 ppg), though their sound defeat of Atlanta last night certainly must have Knicks fans anxious to see what New York can do when they are clicking on all cylinders. A breakout performance from their biggest assets in tonight’s game would not only come at the most opportune of moments, it might simply be necessary to pull them past a Miami team that has been dominating the NBA in the month of February, winning 7 straight games and going 10-2 for the month. Make no mistake though, this New York team shouldn’t be hovering around .500 on the season for long, and with a break for the All-Star weekend festivities, this could be one of the hottest teams in the league coming out in the second half of the year.
With the Knicks depth starting to really take shape as 7 players are now in double figures for the year, heading into this game is perhaps the biggest litmus test as to where the Knicks truly stand in the NBA scheme of things, against one of the odds-on favorites to reach the NBA finals. Summed up by Tyson Chandler, the Knicks starting center in a statement to reporters following the win over Atlanta yesterday, “We can use [the game] kind of as a measuring stick. But once we get back after the All-Star break and are able to get some quality practices in, we can make more of a judgment.” That said, you can rest assured that even playing on back-to-back nights, New York is going to want to prove it can beat the best in the business, not just merely hold up a measuring stick to them. Tasked with keeping up with and limiting Miami’s big three of LeBron James (27.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.8 apg), Dwayne Wade (22.4 ppg, 4.8 apg) and Chris Bosh (18.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), this contest tonight will certainly prove to be one of the biggest challenges New York has faced since Jeremy Lin’s arrival at Madison Square Garden, and despite a host of blooming offensive weapons, New York is going to have to be very, very good on defense to stop the explosive creative chemistry that has developed in Miami. There’s little doubt that once this Knicks team gets going and gets time to work together, they are going to be one of the best teams in the league. However, right now, it’s going to take a little bit of luck and a lot of grinding effort to prove that they can stand up to a Miami team already at their peak, one which is better on defense, scores the most points in the league, and is much better at moving the ball around the court.
For Miami, they have to be more than anxious to knock down some of the hype around this New York Knicks team, which since Jeremy Lin’s arrival has gone 9-2 but has only bested 3 teams over .500 during that stretch. Thus, we can expect the Heat to come out swinging from the get-go, pushing the ball up court and working on the fast break as much as possible. With Miami being the more physical and arguably the quicker of the two teams, setting a blistering pace early should serve them very well at home in an energized atmosphere at the American Airlines Arena. This truly will be one of those games where the national basketball spotlight shines brightly over downtown Miami, and a perfect opportunity for LeBron James to prove to fans and critics alike that he can be clutch under the watchful eye of everyone in basketball. There’s no doubt something to prove for James against Carmelo Anthony, who is 9-4 in his match-ups with ‘The King’, and is averaging 26 points/game in 15 career starts against the Heat specifically. With Carmelo not yet back in full form coming off a groin injury, LeBron James simply must outperform his New York rival on both sides of the ball, and avoid letting him produce a breakout game tonight. If Carmelo goes for big points tonight and rallies the Knicks on the scoring front, a confident New York squad could find themselves in a good and confident position to snag a road win in the waning minutes of the game. If LeBron James can produce to his season average in scoring and provide a solid defensive effort against what should be a slower, less-mobile Anthony, Miami has a clear upper hand on the scoring liens tonight.
Betting Lines for New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat at Intertops Sportsbook
At home, where Miami is playing some of the best basketball in the NBA (14-2), the Heat come into tonight’s match-up as a heavy -550 favorite on the money line, while the visiting New York Knicks, traveling after playing just last night at home, are picked as +410 underdogs.
Against the spread, the Heat will have to overcome double digit points, getting -10 at -110 odds. With the Knicks looking to prove they can hang with the best in the business, their +10 points set as underdogs could prove to be an excellent betting line to follow tonight, provided they can defensively keep pace with the myriad scoring options Miami has. Keep in mind that Miami over its last 7 victories (including 5 straight on the road) has outscored every opponent by at least 12 points, and hasn’t dropped a game at home in a month.
Onto the over/under on total points, the game is expected to be a fast-paced one, with 203 points set as the mark to beat or stay within. This puts the onus squarely on New York tonight to make or break the over/under, as Miami should be able to put up more than 100 points on their home court where they are averaging 104.8 points. New York comes into tonight’s match-up scoring just 93.5 points/game on the road, but have put up 100 or more points in their last two away contests.
Our Pick to Win:
This is where it gets a little interesting; in the last meeting between these two teams in Miami, the Heat were 99-89 winners, however neither Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, nor J.R. Smith were present in the game. Though these players have had very little time to mesh with one another, the confidence they must have heading into tonight after yesterday’s stand-out home performance must play some part in tonight’s game. That said, Miami is going to try and take the wind right out of the Knicks’ sails from the get-go, and if New York finds themselves constantly trailing, that confidence could quick turn to frustration. New York can, and will win this ballgame if they can switch the shooting percentages around from last game (46.3 percent for Miami, 35.7 percent for New York), and keep the turnovers to a minimum. However, with the Knicks still not fully accustomed to playing with one another, and with Miami playing their best basketball of the season heading into the All-Star break, it may be wishful thinking that New York can overcome in this tough road battle. Thus, I’ll play it safe tonight and root for New York to at least keep this one entertaining. The Knicks cover the spread but Miami pulls out a win in front of a tuned-in national basketball audience; Heat 101, New York 96.