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2012 knicks playoff preview

The Knicks Should Hope to Play the Heat, Not the Bulls

According to Basketball Prospectus, there is a zero percent chance of the Knicks earning the No. 6 seed and facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Now, you might ask: But wait, if the Knicks win their last two and the Magic lose their last two, can't the Knicks get that spot? Well, yes, but according to B-Pro, there is statistically a 0.0 percent chance that the Bobcats will beat the Magic on the road tomorrow night. ("That does not account for Orlando playing without Dwight Howard, Hedo Tukoglu and possibly Jameer Nelson, however," B-Pro helpfully adds.) So it's possible but extremely unlikely. Which means the Knicks are almost certain to be playing the Bulls or the Heat in the first round. Whom dost thou desire?

Now, B-Pro actually gives the Knicks a 92.6 percent chance of playing the Heat at the No. 7 seed. The 76ers — who clinched a playoff spot last night with a win over the Nets, the last game ever in New Jersey (until Sacramento moves there!) — have the same record as the Knicks and road games remaining with Milwaukee tomorrow night and Detroit on Thursday night. The Knicks host the Clippers tomorrow and travel to Charlotte on Thursday. The Knicks hold the tiebreaker, so the magic number, essentially, is two, with two games to go. (It's killing us to have these two days off while we're trying to figure out all this mess. Just play some games already!)

So it's more likely the Heat, but it's also far from certain.

The general consensus among many Knicks fans is that the desired opponent should be the Bulls. After all, Derrick Rose has been gimpy, and even when he played against the Knicks earlier this month, Iman Shumpert was able to hang with him. Tyson Chandler is an excellent matchup with Joakim Noah, and Amar'e Stoudemire should be able to score against Carlos Boozer and his inexplicable hairline. Don't forget that the Knicks actually beat the Bulls this year; they were 1-3 against Chicago, while going 0-3 against Miami.

But Chicago also promises to cause the Knicks serious problems. Their defensive intensity is legendary at this point, helping them to smother teams even during the twenty-some-odd games Rose was out. On offense, they're precise and disciplined in exactly the ways that the Knicks are not; they are perfectly primed to take advantage of the Knicks' constant switching and rotating on defense, maximizing mismatches, and finding the open man every time down the court. The Knicks' defense has mostly relied on Chandler and Shumpert compensating for the other Knicks; that won't work against the Bulls. Chicago is a grinding, possession-by-possession team built to wear you down, and over a seven-game series, particularly when the Knicks have to count on Baron Davis and Mike Bibby at the point, it's tough to see the Bulls not just eroding whatever the Knicks can muster. (In a second- or third-round series, with Jeremy Lin back and Jared Jeffries at full strength, maybe that'd be different. Maybe.) And Lord help the Knicks on the offensive boards — the Bulls have routinely killed them there this year. The Bulls aren't streaky or emotional or flighty: They have a great coach and a bunch of tough guys, and on the whole, it would seem like too much for the Knicks.

The Heat, though ... the Heat look wobbly to us. (This isn't necessarily the popular opinion.) The Knicks lost to the Heat all three times they played them, but there was never a time when you thought, Oh, this team is invincible. The Heat, two years later, still only have two players, and potentially only two and a half, depending on how Chris Bosh is feeling that day. LeBron is still the best player on the floor by a large margin, and Wade is Wade, a champion and a warrior (and more popular than LeBron in Miami by a wide margin). Talent-wise, those two guys (particularly LeBron) can overwhelm you.

But this team can be taken — you just have to put the fear in them. The Heat play much better when they're freewheeling, when they don't have time to think. If you can force them into a half-court game — like the Knicks were able to do, actually, in the recent home loss to Miami — you can take away their strength. The trick with Miami is to keep the game close by slowing it down. Doing that against the Bulls just plays into Chicago's strength; with Miami, it can make them sweat. The Heat are going to go into every playoff game this postseason knowing that if they lose, it will feel like walls collapsing, doors closing in. They're a team that, if they get in the wrong headspace, can implode. They're prone to be taken by a team that gets hot for a week. The Knicks have gone cold plenty of weeks this season, but we've seen them get hot. We've seen them get hot lately. There's always a puncher's chance.

The Knicks won't be favored against the Heat or the Bulls — not even close — and they shouldn't be. But if you ask us ... we'll take our chances with the Heat.

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Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images, Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images