Knicks - Heat series preview and prediction for 2023 NBA playoffs
It’s been a dreamlike start to these playoffs for the Knicks, besting the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games despite an injured Julius Randle. Awaiting them in the second round is long-time rival and eighth seed Miami Heat, ready to turn their postseason into a nightmare.
With their upset over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat reminded the NBA world it’s that same contender this time of year no matter the regular season outcome. They’ll be tougher, more poised and better built to compete with New York.
Who’s going to come out on top of this renewed rivalry and advance to the Conference Finals?
Miami won’t look anything like Cleveland, but there are some similarities in the matchup. For one, the Knicks are once again the deeper squad.
The Heat rotation currently consists of Bam Adebayo, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Cody Zeller and Haywood Highsmith. We don’t need to go one-by-one, but there’s a lot of Cedi Osman/Danny Green level guys in there.
We saw how that turned out in Cleveland, and New York needs to take that kind of advantage against Miami. It’ll have to start with specific matchups on the offensive end.
The Knicks are bound to see multiple looks from the Heat, who are coached by one of the best in the game, (especially at on-the-fly and mid-series adjustments) Erik Spoelstra. The good news is New York has multiple looks and dependable scorers, so should they be able to adjust and adapt they will be in good shape.
That means if Miami’s switching everything, Jalen Brunson has to hunt Love, Martin and the guards in pick-and-rolls. If they’re trapping, Josh Hart, Randle or whoever the outlet is needs to receive a crisp pass and make the right read against a blitzing Heat defense.
Zone defenses will require strong cuts and weak-side action to create good looks from deep, which they’ll have to hit. Ultimately there’s no secret who this Knicks offense is running through, and the Heat don’t have many answers for him.
One-on-one, Brunson can torch anybody, except for maybe Butler, consistently. His picks will likely get trapped and thus need a skilled outlet, so no Mitchell Robinson screens, and more wing ones.
If he has Miami on the ropes they may just hard double on no action or stick Butler on him full time. Other guys will have to initiate to create some easy off-ball looks for Brunson either way.
It’s unknown what Randle’s status is, but if relatively healthy he has a chance to have a big series. Short of Adebayo switching onto him, dangerously leaving a forward to battle for rebounds with this center rotation, it’s Love, Martin, or perhaps Butler on him.
Looking at those options, this series should be baby food for Randle, on the assumption he can participate in it.
One question will be how effective the Knicks are on the offensive boards against the strong rebounding front-court of the Heat. Miami’s a top-five defensive rebounding team in the playoffs, fourth in the regular season.
As for Miami’s offense, there’s only one place to start.
Butler has elevated his game in the postseason yet again, this time averaging 37.6 points, six rebounds and 4.8 assists on 59.7 percent shooting from the field, including back-to-back 56 and 42-point outings, in the first round.
Butler’s done this from everywhere, from his down-low bruising for free throws and layups, to Michael Jordan-esque long range jumpers. The Bucks never did much to adjust, but the Knicks will have options.
They can trap and hard hedge Butler and force others to beat them, applying the strong pressure they did to Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland last round. However, that won’t be as easy with better shooters and short roll playmakers on the Heat.
The Knicks need to generally be more cognizant of the Heat’s shooting this round, even if it’s due to regress somewhat. Strus is hitting 41.2 percent on 3.4 attempts per night, Robinson 73.7 percent on 3.8, Vincent 42.4 percent on 6.6 and even Butler and Martin are stroking it at over 40 percent clips.
Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett and Hart make for a nice triumvirate of defensive options against Butler, but it’s uncertain if anybody’s going to affect him individually. This needs to be a limbs-stretched, sharp-rotation and energized team effort.
Robinson should be able to hold his own against Adebayo. Obi Toppin can’t be leaking out for cherry picks with Love and Butler lurking on the boards.
One lineup to look out for will be Miami turning to Adebayo, Butler and shooters. They will try and make things stuffy for the Knicks offensively and speed up and spread out defensively, as they did successfully against Milwaukee.
The Knicks can respond with small lineups of their own, with Hart or Barrett at the four and Randle or a big man at the five. Tom Thibodeau will have to pull some new things out game-to-game against a tactician of Spoelstra’s caliber.
Overall, New York seems to have another nice matchup advantage but won’t be facing the inexperience and softness of their last opponent, with that being said, Knicks in 7.