Perkins: If Knicks protect the ball, they can beat Heat

MIAMI – The New York Knicks commit 11.3 turnovers per game. That’s fewer than any other team in the NBA – and a major reason why they could beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs this year.

Forget about the Heat’s lack of rebounds and lack of size. They had those same limitations last season and won the title. The best way to beat the Heat is to take care of the ball, and that’s what the Knicks do.

Look at it this way: The Heat is a disruptive defensive team, first and foremost. They’re 10th in the NBA at forcing turnovers at 15.0 per game and tied for 10th in steals at 8.3 per game.

They feed off of that defensive prowess to get two of the NBA’s best open-court players – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – flying downcourt for easy baskets.

Beyond that, defense is how the Heat assert themselves; it is how they impose their will on the opponent. The turnovers disrupt the flow of the opponents’ offense. The turnovers not only take away scoring opportunities, they demoralize.

Even the Heat agrees the key is turnovers, not rebounds.

The Knicks, however, don’t have that turnover problem. They take care of the ball. They have guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, a pair of veterans who don’t get rattled, as their main ballhandlers and decision-makers. They’re in good hands.

The other guys who put the ball on the floor frequently – forward Carmelo Anthony and guard J.R. Smith – also know how to maintain possession. They won’t give the Heat a lot of cheap scoring opportunities.

Of course, the Knicks still face the major problem of stopping the Heat’s dangerous halfcourt offense, which features James, Wade and Big Three teammate Chris Bosh, as well as accomplished 3-point shooters such as Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mike Miller.

But remember, these Knicks play defense. That gives them an even better chance against Miami. New York is tied for ninth in points allowed at 96.3 per game.

And they have a dynamic half-court player in Anthony, who is among the few elite late-game scorers in the NBA.

That 1-2 punch of committing very few turnovers and having Anthony to put the ball in the basket gives the Knicks the best chance of any team in the East of beating the Heat in a best-of-seven series.

The Knicks (27-15) are staying remarkably close to the Heat (28-13). Miami’s lead in the Eastern Conference is just 1 1/2 games. New York is legitimately good.

If the Knicks keep the turnovers down, they give themselves a chance to unseat the defending champs.

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