One of the NBA’s better rivalries of yesteryear will be renewed on Saturday when Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks take on LeBron James’ Miami Heat. If it goes to a seventh game, fasten your seat belts and prepare for some controversy. Remember, those who forget history are destined to repeat it. Is Bennett Salvatore working that game? Here are five factors that may determine the outcome of the series.
- THE HOMECOURT FACTOR: Those that have doubts about the Miami Heat’s championship mettle look need to look no further than the discrepancy between their play at home versus their play on the road. During the regular season, the Heat were tied for the NBA’s best home record at 28-5, but could only manage to go 18-15 away from Miami’s American Airlines Arena. Although the Heat are favored in this series, they must win Game 1 and Game 2 in Miami. If the Knicks are able to steal either, there’s no telling where this series can go. Nobody doubts whether or not LeBron James would be up for the challenge of playing in Madison Square Garden—since 2008, he’s won six of the seven games he played in MSG—but the question is whether or not the Heat’s supporting cast could muster the courage to make big plays in enemy territory. The first team to steal homecourt advantage in this series will probably end up prevailing.
- THE STOUDEMIRE FACTOR: Although Carmelo Anthony has played superb basketball over the past month, he won’t be able to beat the Heat alone. Stoudemire—after missing 13 straight games due to a bulging disk in his lower back—will need to carry the Knicks offense for stretches and help Tyson Chandler control the paint and rebound the basketball. Since returning, Stoudemire has looked pretty good. Thus far, he’s played four games and is averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Even more impressive? He’s shooting a blistering 56 percent from the field over that stretch. If the combination of Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony can neutralize Stoudemire to the extent where he is just a bystander, or if Anthony is unable to find him rolling to the basket or popping out for mid-range jumpers, this series might be over very quickly.
- THE TRANSITION FACTOR: The Heat are dangerous when they create turnovers and push the ball up the floor. And the Knicks guards—especially Baron Davis—have shown a propensity to make bad decisions with the ball and turn it over. For the Knicks, taking care of the ball and controlling the tempo of the game will go a long way in keeping games close and giving Anthony an opportunity to hit a big shot or two and steal a game for them.
- THE 3-POINT FACTOR: To put it simply, the Knicks like to shoot 3s. During the regular season, their 23.4 attempts per game was second only to the Orlando Magic’s 27.1. The question for the Knicks is not how many 3s they take, it’s how many they make. Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, and even Baron Davis aren’t shy, but if they’re tossing bricks from long distance, it’ll certainly create transition opportunities for the Heat. On the other hand, if they shoot the ball well, the Heat’s defense will spread and loosen. That would go a long way in creating passing lanes to the basket, and that’s where both Chandler and Stoudemire could take advantage of the Heat’s lack of interior intimidation.
- THE CARMELO FACTOR: Since his arrival in New York, Anthony has had an up and down relationship with Knicks fans. Deep down inside, he believes he’s on the same plateau as both James and Wade and now, for the first time ever, he has the opportunity to prove it. Anthony has received praise for his play since Mike Woodson took over the helm for the New York Knicks and is the presumptive favorite to win the NBA Player of the Month for April. Whether or not he can continue his recent great play into May will go a long way in deciding what should be a very intriguing series.
SHERIDAN: Knicks in 7.
HUBBARD: Heat in 7.
HEISLER: Heat in 6.
BERNUCCA: Heat in 5.
HAMILTON: Heat in 6
PERKINS: Heat in 5
ZAGORIA: Heat in 6.
PARK: Knicks in 7.
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