MIAMI – There’s nothing more we need to see from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
We’ve seen everything we need to see until the playoffs. James and Wade have earned their rest; the Heat have answered the questions.
The New York Knicks (47-26), on the other hand, despite being the NBA’s hottest team with their nine-game winning streak, still have many unanswered questions. But solutions seem to be emerging, and they could be leading us to a Heat-Knicks matchup in the Eastern Conference finals.
Forward Carmelo Anthony is doing his part to make that happen.
Anthony was absolutely incredible Tuesday night, tying a career-best with 50 points in the Knicks’ 102-90 victory over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I felt it today,” Anthony said. “Regardless of who suited up, we wanted to win this basketball game.”
Melo was unstoppable, hitting seven 3-pointers while going 18-for-26 from the field. I can’t recall a layup or dunk.
Melo’s performance is the reason the Knicks are on their longest winning streak since 1993-94, when they won 15 consecutive games. Melo’s performance is the reason the Knicks ended the Heat’s 17-game home winning streak. And Melo’s performance is the reason the Knicks are 17 games over .500 for first time since 1996-97 season.
But the Knicks, as well as they’re playing, still have some proving to do:
–Are they good enough to maintain the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs?
–Are they good enough to win a second-round playoff series?
–And the biggest question of all, are the Knicks good enough to beat the Heat (58-16) in a best-of-seven series?
New York, which seems destined for its first 50-win season and first division title since 1994, entered Tuesday’s game with good health and bad intentions.
Anthony, who hit his first seven shots en route to a 27-point first half, set the tone for New York, which saw center Tyson Chandler (neck) return after a 10-game absence.
Anthony’s prowess showed why the Knicks are such a threat in a series. He can carry a team.
And while he was burying 3-pointers from everywhere on the court, the Knicks clamped down defensively and stalled the Heat’s halfcourt offense.
Granted, Heat point guard Mario Chalmers (ankle) sat out along with Wade (ankle) and James (hamstring), so everything should be kept in proper perspective.
But the Knicks, who trailed, 58-50 at halftime, did what they had to do. Guard J.R. Smith delivered the knockout punch with a 3-pointer to give New York a 99-88 lead with 1:47 remaining.
It was an incredibly efficient fourth quarter (the Knicks outscored the Heat, 24-14), the type that makes you think New York could do some damage against anyone in the East aside from Miami.
“They took it to another level and we weren’t able to get to that level in the fourth quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Knicks can’t beat the Heat in a series. We know that. They’re simply not good enough.
But winning 50 games, getting the Atlantic Division title and winning a second-round playoff series would qualify as a wildly successful season for New York.
The Knicks can get hot. The nine-game winning streak is showing that. Individual players can get hot, too. Smith showed that last week with his three consecutive 30-point games. Melo has showed it all season.
The ability to get hot is a tremendous help in the playoffs, where back-to-back victories can sometimes swing a series.
Lately the Knicks have resembled the team that started 18-5 rather than the injury-slowed team that went 20-21 in between the hot start and the current hot finish.
Looking at this current version of the Knicks you’d have to think given reasonable health they could probably beat Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn or Atlanta in a second-round series.
The Knicks are old, but they’re still deep and talented. If frontcourt players such as Amare Stoudemire, Chandler, and Kurt Thomas can get healthy and stay healthy there’s a chance the Knicks could create some excitement.
Among Melo, Smith, Chandler, Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Thomas the Knicks appear solid.
New York isn’t good enough to beat the Heat. But I’m again starting to think the Knicks are good enough to win a second-round series and likely face Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
Chris Perkins is a veteran Miami-based sports journalist who covers the Heat for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.