In a continuation from last week's piece on possible Western Conference Finals match ups, I'll be looking at which teams could possibly overthrow the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. As of late, the Heattles have been plowing through the league only slowing down to toy with their food. (Sorry Orlando. But you knew you really never stood a chance.) Lebron has cranked it up to level 10, and then broke off the knob. He'll likely win his fourth MVP, and as the case for the past 3 years, the only person capable of slowing him down...is him.
Pictured: Heat season ticket holders
As I wrote a few months ago, I've been intrigued with the New York Knickerbockers. Like many franchises, everything starts with their superstar. Carmelo Anthony is still having an MVP caliber season. Tyson Chandler continues to do his jumping, dunking, yelling thing. And Amare Stoudemire hasn't ruined any cohesion that was present upon his return to the lineup. With the return of Raymond Felton, the Lord has answered Jason Kidd's prayers. He was literally dying out there playing starter's minutes. His old bones couldn't take it. A few more games and I was about to contact the center for elder abuse. Speaking of Raymond Felton. I think I've finally come to a conclusion on him. He's not very good at basketball. Felton is just really, really, really, REALLY lucky. Seriously, the next time you see a Knicks game, pay attention to Felton. Nothing he does is calculated. When he breaks down the defense, he's almost always stumbling head first with a wild, high, handle. It’s funny, because at times he'll make a move with his head and neck. But his feet are stumbling behind trying to match it. Sometimes I swear his eyes are closed. Raymond Felton; Basketball's Forrest Gump.
Don't question it Knicks fans. Just roll with it.
The Knicks take and make more three pointers than any other team in the NBA. Because they're so good at stretching the floor, it gives Carmelo more room to operate. And when playing at the power forward there really isn't anyone who can stop him. When the double team comes, it leaves a shooter open. Almost a symbiotic relationship between Carmelo's offense and the rest of the team's offense. It’s a pretty neat trick that most teams can't pull off because they don't have a dynamic enough offensive player or they don't have the shooters. JR Smith, while still a bonehead, has placed his hat in the ring for 6th man of the year candidate. He's also done a pretty good job of spelling Melo when he has been out of the lineup for various reasons this year. Because Amare is coming off the bench, his numbers are way down. But he's been very efficient. Shooting 70% on shots 5-9 ft from the hoop and shooting 57% overall from the floor. (EDIT: I read over the weekend that Amare may be out for the remainder of the season. We shall see how well he can contribute come playoff time.)
When it comes the Miami Heat, the Knicks have beaten them two out of three times. The first two were twenty point blowouts in favor of New York. The last game Miami managed to steal after being down 16 points. The Knicks are the poster children for the term "Live by the Three, Die by the Three". If you look at Steve Novak, he made 5 threes in the first game against Miami, and then 4 the next. For a total of 17 and 18 points respectively. In last Sunday's loss, he made zero threes and had zero points. In Last year’s playoffs, Miami made sure that Novak was a non factor. Simply put, the Knicks need Steve Novak to play a major role if they hope to beat Miami in the playoffs and keep Spike Lee from killing himself. The Knicks can beat any team on any given night. They just have to remain disciplined. When the ball starts sticking in Melo, JR, and Felton’s hands, it’s pretty much a guaranteed loss for New York.
Okay, let us pretend that the Indiana Pacers didn't get run out of the gym the other day and Lebron barely had to try. Let us pretend that they didn't somehow make Mario Chalmers the best player on the floor. And let us pretend that Erik Spoelstra didn't make Frank Vogel look like it was 2011 and he was an intern head coach all over again. Other than last Sunday's South Beach slaying, the Pacers are quite the challenge for LBJ and co.
The Pacer's stingy defense is ranked number 1 in the league. They give up the least amount of threes and their paint is manned by the towering Roy Hibbert and the surly veteran, David West. They've even managed to save Lance (I look just like Shawn Kemp) Stephenson from turning into Sebastian Telfair 2.0. I was worried about the guy at first. His only notable marks on the 2011-2012 season was for making the choking sign at the Heat players, and then getting his head caved in by...what's his face...his thighs used to rub together when he was in college I think...Dexter Pittman, yeah. Yes, Stephenson is proving to be a nice addition to the starting lineup. He's averaging 8.5 ppg and has a three pointer that has to be respected. The offense features rising star, Paul George. He's upped his per game average to 17.6 points a contest. By the way, Paul George reminds me of a rich man's Rudy Gay. For example, Gay averaged 18.9 points 5.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assist in his 3rd season. George is putting up 17.6, 7.8, and 4.0. Gay shot a better percentage from the floor, but I'll blame George's 42% on him not being used to the increased scoring load. Either way, he's second on the seam in rebounding and displays unselfishness with the basketball that I'm sure makes him popular amongst his teammates.
As we can see, Danny has learned rule 43 of the NBA. Go for the nipples.
The Pacers bench features rough and tumble guys like Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahinmi, and Sam Young. This is good because pretty boy Augustin seems adverse to doing anything that would be could even be construed as defense. I guess I can't be too harsh on him, he did come from Charlotte. Playing defense was thought to be a form of black magic. Yup, the Pacers are playing so well this season they almost made you forget about Danny Granger. The NBA's toughest soft guy/softest tough guy has been out most of the season with patellar tendinosis. I'm sure all year he's been stewing in his own rage looking at Lebron highlights on ESPN. If these two teams meet in the playoffs it'll be funny to see a gimpy Granger hobble around the court as he desperately tries to flagrantly foul Lebron.
I like to think of the rivalry between Bron and I as a modern day Magic and Bird.
David West, an actual NBA tough guy; has been fantastic in the three games vs the Heat. He's being guarded by Bosh, who's never been known as a banger or a defender. And Shane Battier; who just two years ago was playing shooting guard. Now he's fighting in the trenches against 6'10" post players. (Other than Lebron is there anyone on that team who's earned every penny of his paycheck the way Battier has?) Indiana's only true center, Roy Hibbert, has been less than dominant. If I'm a Pacer fan, I'd want him to start asserting himself more offensively. Haslem, Bosh, and Birdman shouldn't be able to stop him from scoring 18-20 a game. The Pacer offense isn't really geared around getting Hibbert shots, but against Miami, Vogel should take advantage of the size mismatch.
When Miami makes threes, they’re simply on a different level than most teams. As I mentioned before, the Pacers allow the fewest amount of three's per game. Ray Allen didn't make any in the first two meetings and in the last game, he went 1 of 4. Unfortunately for Pacers, Mario Chalmers made 5 threes. There zone defense is good enough to make Lebron work but Dwayne Wade seems to do pretty much as he likes. Indiana has the tools but they’ve got to make Miami play their style of basketball.