Memories of 1999 as the Knicks set to face Heat in Playoffs
The 2012 NBA Playoffs kick off tomorrow afternoon with a handful of interesting first round matchups set to commence. Given the star power on the rosters of Miami and New York, there is already plenty of intrigue surrounding the impending battle between the Heat and Knicks.
A little over a decade ago, it used to a given that the Heat and Knicks would meet up in the playoffs. Led by the likes of Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason, the Knicks were a rough and physical bunch who employed the “no-layup rule” at all times. Throughout the 90’s they developed a host of bitter rivals and engaged in classic playoff battles with the Jordan-led Bulls, Reggie Miller and the Pacers, and finally the Heat.
The Knicks were built into defensive beasts by Pat Riley, who coached them for five seasons (’91-’95) in a manner more fitting of fiery his personality than those of his flashy Showtime Lakers squads. When he left New York for South Beach he quickly traded for Alonzo Mourning, a fierce shot-blocker with a Ewing type presence around the rim. Within a few seasons Riley had transformed the Heat roster and style of play into one eerily reminiscent of the team he left behind in Gotham, who after a brief stint at the helm by Don Nelson were now coached by his former assistant Jeff Van Gundy.
Growing up a Knicks fan in the Ewing/Post Ewing era, there haven’t been too many lasting memories to hold onto. A notable exception was 1998-1999 lockout-shortened season when the Knicks made a run to the NBA Finals as the 8th seed. Sad to say but this is still my favorite NBA postseason of all-time, as I vividly recall each game the Knicks played that spring/summer. The Knicks faced Riley’s top-seeded Heat squad in the first round, and didn’t take long for me to realize that these teams were pretty evenly matched up. A glaring advantage the Knicks had over Miami in that particular year was in terms of athleticism, as Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Marcus Camby (who seemingly dunked on everyone that postseason) were younger and quicker than most of their Heat counterparts. In the deciding fifth game played in Miami, Houston hit a running jumper with a few ticks left that proved to be the game winner. To this day I will never forget the Knicks run to the Finals in 1999, and though they lost to the Spurs in five games I still hold a special place in my heart for the work done by Spree, Houston, LJ, Camby, and the rest of the team.
During the memorable four year stretch of 1997-2000, the Heat and Knicks met in the playoffs each season with New York winning three out of the four encounters. The 2012 playoffs begin after the first shortened season since ’98-’99, and much like that season the Heat are entering the playoffs as the higher seed (and one of the prohibitive title favorites) while the Knicks come in as a talented question mark. Like most Knicks fans I am wondering aloud and debating whether history can repeat itself.
It will be a challenge to say the least. Miami beat the Knicks handily in their three regular season meetings, and when they turn up the pressure defensively have the ability to completely shut people down. LeBron James has played this entire season like a man possessed, and after last year’s debacle in the Finals he is practically foaming at the mouth for the playoffs to start. I wouldn’t say the Heat have three superstars, but James and Wade are arguably the league’s most formidable duo while Bosh is a solid third wheel. What will it take for the unthinkable to happen?
Carmelo Anthony has been playing some of the best basketball of his career, and will likely have to have a ’84 Bernard King or (insert any year) MJ type of transcendent playoff series in order for the ‘Bockers to advance. ‘Melo relishes the big stage and has zero fear of LeBron/Wade, but will need plenty of help from teammates. Tyson Chandler has more than lived up to the reputation he cultivated with the Mavericks last season, bringing up the defensive level of his team and essentially covering up for many of their deficiencies. He will need to be at his best protecting the rim against the non-stop attacking style of the Heat.
Though we might not see him dunking over Andrei Kirilenko or anyone else anytime soon, Baron Davis needs to control the pace for the Knicks and do whatever it takes to limit their turnover. The Heat are a team that thrives off of opponents mistakes and getting easy baskets in transition, so the Knicks will be best served not to do them any favors. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that LeBron is going to get his points each game, so Iman Shumpert’s ability to contain D-Wade is paramount. Miami’s bench is suspect, so New York needs J.R. Smith and Steve Novak to win the battle between the second units every time out. Their ability to stretch the floor creates space and should allow Carmelo more room to operate.
Then there’s Amare. If he was still the explosive player he was in his Phoenix days and for most of last year, chances are he would destroy Bosh and tilt the advantage in New York’s direction. Dealing with a lingering back issue, he has been hit or miss this season and too often has looked like a shell of the dominant force he used to be. In a perfect scenario he will turn back the clock and be the STAT of old, LeBron and the Heat will tighten up in crunch time and struggle finishing games, D-Wade’s wide assortment of aches and pains will catch up to him, Bosh will wonder where he is, and like last year the Heat will be forced to turn to Juwan Howard in desperation due to the incompetence of their reserve players…all factors leading to the Knicks returning to the Garden for Game 6 up 3 games to 2. Pipe dream right? Probably, but man what a scene that would be.
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