Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The red-hot Miami Heat come into Madison Square Garden for a nationally televised game Sunday afternoon, and the Knicks know they have a tremendous opportunity to make a statement that they are still a factor in the East.
Yes, the Knicks have already beaten the LeBrons twice this season by 20 points each, but that was then and this is now.
Miami (42-14) has won 13 straight games and will be looking to prove that those first two losses weren’t representative of how they can really play against the Knicks (35-20), a team they lead by 6 1/2 games in the Eastern Conference standings.
“They know that we got them here and then embarrassed them in their house, so we expect them to come in fired up,” center Tyson Chandler said Saturday.
“They’re the champs for a reason. They’re not laying down to anybody and it should be a dogfight.”
After a poor stretch of play before and after the All-Star break, the Knicks have seemingly righted the ship with three straight wins, including Friday’s in Washington, and could really make a statement on a national stage by moving to 3-0 against Miami.
“They’re the best team in the league based on their play,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “They’re the world champions and we’re going to have to compete for 48 minutes to beat them.
“I’ve always said that there’s not a team we can’t beat but we gotta be committed, and they’re not going to just give you a game. You gotta go out and take a game.”
Woodson knows that this team isn’t the same one that started 18-5, including two wins over Miami and one over San Antonio.
“I’ve watched enough tape to know that we’re not at the level where we were earlier in the year and I’m trying to get us back to that level,” he said.
A win in this game would show critics that the Knicks are a force in the East, and perhaps plant a seed in Miami’s head that the Knicks have their number.
A blowout loss, on the other hand, might prove the 18-5 start was a mirage.
“It would be a big game for us,” Chandler said. “But ultimately it’s more of OK, we see where we’re at heading into the playoffs, see things we gotta tweak. If anything, it’s more for us than them. Like I said, they got the recipe, obviously. They’re the world champs and that didn’t happen by any fluke. So I think it’s more for us to see where we’re at at this point.”
After spending the summer winning a gold medal with James, even Chandler came away impressed.
“I learned that he’s an incredible basketball player, better than I even thought, Chandler said.
“Playing with him, any question there was about him leading or anything like that, he’s the ultimate teammate. He was incredible. He was hands-down the best player on our team.”
Now James has taken his game to a new level, averaging 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
The way James and Dwyane Wade are both playing right now, Miami is going at an elite level. Chandler knows the Knicks will have to match that energy at the Garden, where they are 21-8 this season.
“They’re the champs,” Chandler said. “And I like it like that. We can come in under the radar, keep our focus and handle what we gotta handle.”
The Knicks probably won’t catch the Heat for the No. 1 see in the East, but they need to fend off Indiana for the 2 seed to maintain homecourt advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“It’s all about to me who’s hot at the end of the year,” Chandler said. “Whoever is hot going into the playoffs, that’s ultimately going to tell the tale.”
FREE THROWSJames White will make his second straight start at shooting guard, with Jason Kidd coming off the bench with the second unit that features Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith…Marcus Camby will be a gametime decision after returning from plantar fasciitis and hopes to contribute. He probably wouldn’t play that much, but going forward could give Chandler some much-needed rest for a few minutes a game. “I just have to be ready when my number’s called upon. Just try to make it productive time when I’m out there on the basketball court,” Camby said….Woodson said “the door is still open” for Rasheed Wallace to return in the postseason assuming he recovers from left foot surgery. He is expected to miss at least eight weeks after undergoing surgery this week. “He’s just gotta put in the time and rehab and get back out on the floor because he can help us I think in the long run,” Woodson said.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.