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Miami Heat and New York Knicks Renew Playoffs Rivalry in Eastern Conference Semi-Finals



Jimmy Butler | Photo Credit:

The fifth-seed New York Knicks and eighth-seed Miami Heat both defeated their higher-seed opponents in the (first-seed) Milwaukee Bucks and (fourth-seed) Cleveland Cavaliers in just five games during the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

It is not a matchup many people were expecting, but it’s a matchup with plenty of history behind it.

One of Miami or New York will be the fourth low seed (5th or lower) in the past 24 years to make it to the conference finals when the dust settles on this upcoming series.

It is the sixth playoff matchup overall between the two teams and the first since 2012 when the Heat won in five games in the first round over the Knicks on their way to an NBA Championship, which was led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The four other playoff series between Miami and New York, they were played in four consecutive seasons from 1997-2000, all of them were fiercely fought to the end but the Knicks walked away the victor with three of those four series.

While the NBA is a much different and more offensive orientated game today compared to the late 1990’s, this matchup could look very similar to that 1990’s rivalry between the two franchises. Compared to the other series around the league in the playoffs, this is a series that is expected to be gritty, defensive heavy and where every trip to the foul-line, every possession and every board off the glass could be as crucial as the next.

The Knicks have the home-court advantage and Jalen Brunson, who is arguably their best point guard in over a decade. The Heat have the NBA’s most undervalued superstar in Jimmy Butler, who proved once again why he is indeed one of the league’s best after making quick work of the NBA’s best regular season team, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Butler averaged a phenomenal 37.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 60-percent from the floor and 44-percent beyond the arc during that five-game series with the Bucks. Butler even added a 56-point outing in game four, tying for fourth all-time in single-game scoring performances in the history of the NBA Playoffs and it also set a Heat franchise record for the postseason.

The other x-factor for the Heat, head coach Erik Spoelstra and oddly he toes the line of being one of the most underappreciated coaches in the NBA. He is fifth all-time in playoff victories with 100 to his name and he’s won two championships in five NBA Finals appearances. History would say the Heat are more experienced entering this series, considering the Knicks have only made the playoffs three times in the past ten seasons.

An interesting storyline to follow though, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau coached Jimmy Butler for four seasons during both of their tenures with the Chicago Bulls, in addition to coaching Butler during his short-lived stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2017-2018 before Butler demanded a trade from the team; Butler had cited frustrations with the Timberwolves roster at the time and how serious they actually took the game of basketball.

While the Knicks bested the Heat in three-of-four matchups during the 2022-2023 NBA regular season, it would be difficult to argue against the fact that Miami is a different team during the postseason.

The Heat completely changed their tune since the regular season ended. Miami was the worst team in scoring offense during the season but they lead all postseason teams in that category heading into this series. Miami was very dangerous from three-point range against the Bucks but they are going against a Knicks team that was a tough outing defensively in the opening round. The Knicks held the Cavaliers to 44.2% shooting from the floor and 32.7% from beyond the arc in the opening round. Jimmy Butler is certainly going to need more help from his teammates in this series if the Heat want to advance to the conference finals for the second consecutive year.

Keys to the Matchup:

Clutch-Factor  The Heat led the league in clutch wins with 32 victories during the regular season, and Jimmy Butler scored 21 points (6-for-12) in just 12.5 clutch minutes in the first round against Milwaukee. Although, the Knicks did take the regular season series over the Heat by producing a very efficient 11-for-15 on clutch shots over three of the four games that were within five points within the last five minutes. Miami is going to need Jimmy Butler to pull through again in the fourth quarter if they want to win the series but also a bit more from Bam Adebayo on the offensive end in crunch time.

Offensive Rebounding – The Knicks dominated the Cavaliers on the offensive glass in the first round, grabbing almost 40% of available offensive rebounds. That mark was the highest total for any team in any series in the last nine years of the NBA Playoffs. That made up for their awful shooting from the floor, which ranked last in effective field goal percentage in the first round. The Heat on the other hand, they ranked fourth in defensive rebounding percentage during the regular season and seventh of any team versus the Knicks.

Benches – The Knicks had one of the top-five bench productions during the regular season, meanwhile bench production was quite the struggle for the Heat. Good thing for Miami, the theme of being a completely different team during the playoffs continues, they had the top-ranked bench production in the first round of all teams, where they outscored the Bucks by almost 19 points per 100 possessions in Caleb Martin’s 133 minutes of action. Both teams have a few reserves they trust down the stretch. There will be many instances where starters are off the floor, and those minutes will have to be managed strategically.

Julius Randle’s Health – All-Star Julius Randle sprained his ankle again during the second quarter of game five against the Cavaliers, before the Knicks closed out the series. Randle did not have a good series against the Cavs, shooting only 34% from the floor. The Knicks are a pretty good team when Randle’s shot is on track, but he can also be the culprit for offensive struggles and stale possessions. If he’s not in full-form, his lingering injury could spell trouble for the Knicks on the defensive front and success for Miami through Bam Adebayo’s hands on offense.

My Prediction:

The Heat just took down the best team in the league in five games, the Milwaukee Bucks, and they are finding their rhythm at the right time. Jimmy Butler has proven to be devastating for opposing defenses in the playoffs and Caleb Martin has been a sigh of relief and efficient as ever for Miami in the postseason. Despite losing Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo to injuries, the Heat have played at a different level without the two available.

Miami is very similar in a sense to a western conference counterpart, the Los Angeles Lakers. Both teams struggled during the first-half of the regular season, only to find their footing at the end and finish strong while carrying that momentum into the playoffs. The notion of labeling the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers benefactors of the NBA Playoff Bubble in 2020, well that bubble has certainly been bursted.

Miami’s historic series win over Milwaukee is not a mere fluke, the Heat have proven time and time again they are a team that is not only built for the playoffs but experienced enough to make a deep run in the postseason; the moment is never too big for them. While I expect the Knicks to give the Heat more fits defensively, to expect a sudden cliff dive of the Heat’s postseason production is not believable. The Knicks are not seasoned enough and Miami has been here countless times, the Heat take this series in six games with it ending in Miami, ultimately punching their ticket to the conference finals for the second consecutive year.



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