It’s set. Game 1 – Knicks @ Heat. Saturday 4/28/12. 3:30pm.
I will be the first to admit that beating the Heat and advancing into the 2nd round of the playoffs is a long shot. They have lost all 3 regular season matchups against the Heat by an average of 10 points. Evan Turner of the Sixers even went on record saying that the Sixers are “dodging the tougher team”by facing the #1 seeded Bulls in the first round. However, I don’t think advancing to the 2nd round is an impossible feat for the Knicks, especially since the Heat have not faced a complete Knicks roster since Melo decided to undergo that radical transformation back to his old self back at the end of March. In fact, if the Knicks are able to execute all the below keys to victory, I think it’s very do-able. So without further ado…

Dave Liu’s Keys to a successful Knicks playoff run:

1)      Melo must continue being Melo – Without a doubt, teams are going to be onto Melo’s shenanigans in the playoffs and will probably throw many double teams his way. However, if he stays in control and maintains his court vision (ie. 10 assists against Boston back on 4/17/12) and feeds the Knicks bigs for high percentage buckets against a deficient Miami front court, then the Knicks can be deadly. Because of the way Melo has been playing as of late, many comparisons have been made between this year’s Knicks and last year’s championship Mavericks team. Let’s think about it: Melo = Dirk, Chandler = Chandler (duh), JR Smith = a streakier version of Jason Terry, Baron Davis = a handicapped Jason Kidd, Shumpert = Marion with an offense. Also, this comparison isn’t even including Novak and Amare! Comforting isn’t it?

2)      Knicks bigs need to exploit the Heat’s weakness in bigs – Rebounding, points in the paint, blocks, you name it. The Knicks need to capitalize against a team who has soft-body Chris Bosh, offensively deficient Joel Anthony, Eddy Curry (self-explanatory), and Dexter Pittman (who?) as their centers. Over the season, the Heat have averaged +1.7 rebounds per game (RPG) differential, and in losses they average a -5.4 RPG differential. Thus, Tyson Chandler cannot be the only one grabbing rebounds for the Knicks. Either Amare or Melo (or both) must chip in. Ideally, at least 25 rebounds among the 3 of them.

3)      Novak has to be involved in the offense and get good looks – Woodson has to draw up new plays to free him up and get him open shots, especially when teams are stuck on him like glue all game. There’s been games where Novak had less than 5 shot attempts and that’s just unacceptable for the most consistent 3 point shooter in the league. Maybe Woodson should consider giving him double screens if a simple screen won’t work. Novak’s performance in the playoffs can help enormously to spread the floor for the Knicks, which is something they need if Melo, Stat, or Chandler are on the floor and the Knicks plan on completing the aforementioned key #2. Of course, if Novak’s defense proves to be a liability to the Knicks in this series then it will be tough to complete this task.

4)      We all know JR Smith is streaky, but he must contain it and be smart about it – He must go off when needed and if he’s off, he must focus on his defense and not continue to take bad shots and throw off the Knicks’ offensive flow. At the risk of some blatant finger pointing, he took some poor shots in crunch time against the Heat in their last outing. But then again, when he does make those poor shot selections in crunch time despite missing every other shot prior, this would be a moot point right?

5)      Defensive intensity must be consistent all series, especially on the help side – The Knicks need to deny the lane and draw charges and if the help is late, they need to foul hard to prevent the And-1 and make Lebron/Wade earn their points at the line. Jared Jeffries expecting to come back for Game 1 should be a big help in this area. Also, Shumpert’s 2 consecutive strips off of Dwyane Wade in the back court during the last matchup is promising.

6)      Limit turnovers – This seems like an obvious point but one team you don’t want to turn the ball over against is the Miami Heat. The Heat thrive on these mistakes by using their athleticism and superior finishing abilities to get easy buckets in the open court. This past season, the Heat averaged 14.8 turnovers per game (TOPG) while forcing 16.9 TOPG. In their 17 losses during the regular season, the Heat averaged 15.2 TOPG while only forcing 14.64 TOPG. This translates to a swing of 2.7 TOPG with a potential impact of 6-9 points per game. Thus, the Knicks need to slow the pace of game down to a half court game against the Heat. Smart ball movement on offense can exploit the Heat’s tendencies to gamble the passing lanes on defense.

7)      Dan Gadzur…. Just kidding

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