Fans of a certain age will have some serious déjà vu when the New York Knicks face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting on Sunday. These teams had an intense rivalry in the late 1990s, meeting in the postseason for four straight seasons at one point. The Knicks won three of those four series, but what’s remembered most is the altercations between these two teams.
In their first playoff meeting in 1997, the Knicks were up 3-1 on the Heat when P.J. Brown body slammed Charlie Ward late in a game the Heat had already put away, setting off a fracas that saw Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, John Starks, and Ward suspended over the next two games. The Knicks went on to lose the series, and that set the tone for what was to come between these teams.
The next year saw the Knicks and Heat meet in the first round. The Knicks won that series 3-2, but Game 4 provided one of the most memorable photographs/video clips of the era. Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy was trying to break up a fight between Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson and ended up wrapped around Mourning’s legs holding on for dear life. Van Gundy will be calling games in this series, so we should see a few tapes of that highlight.
New York went on to win the next two meetings between these teams in the playoffs, but cooler heads kept things from erupting again. We may see a callback to those prior series though as there are fiery players on both teams that can get a little too involved.
The Knicks are currently -143 to win this series per the NBA futures odds at BetRivers Sportsbook
NBA Betting Odds at BetRivers Sportsbook
New York Knicks (-4) vs. Miami Heat
Despite a mediocre regular season, the Miami Heat are in the second round of the playoffs after knocking off the best team in the league over the course of just five games. Miami was 200-1 to win the title by the NBA championship odds after losing to Atlanta in the play-in tournament, but that was before Jimmy Butler became Playoff Jimmy and elevated his game to the next level.
Butler was a monster in Miami’s last two games against the Milwaukee Bucks. He had 22 points in the first quarter of Game 4 and finished with 56 points while making 67.9% of his field goals to lead Miami to a 119-114 win over Milwaukee. Most observers thought he wouldn’t be nearly as productive in Game 5, but he came up big once more with 42 points while sending the game to overtime on a wild, off-balanced shot.
This is the player that Miami relies on, and that New York needs to limit in order to win this series. Butler is averaging 37.6 PPG so far this postseason, and that’s 20 more PPG than his next closest teammate. There are serious concerns about where Miami’s offense will come from outside of Butler, as Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo are both lost for the series due to injury.
The Knicks had something of a one-man offense in the first round too. Offseason acquisition Jalen Brunson has emerged as the go-to guy for the Knicks in his first year with the Knicks, supplanting Julius Randle in that department. Brunson is averaging 24.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 6.2 APG even though he hasn’t been extremely efficient from the floor.
Reportedly, Randle is recovering from an ankle injury that affected his play negatively against the Heat. He averaged just 14.4 PPG while making just 33.8% of his field goals and 23.5% of his threes. His rebounding numbers are way down too, and that will need to change in this series.
Under 206.5 in MIA
This is going to be an ugly, low-scoring game. The Knicks will focus their attention on stopping Butler, and the Heat will not be able to be as successful on offense as Tom Thibodeaux will shake things up more. Don’t be surprised if both teams score less than 100 points in a gritty back-and-forth affair, but I like the Knicks to come out on top.