A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Beware the Unconventional Swordsman: Why I still see the Knicks as the biggest threat to the Heat in the East

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Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”

– Mark Twain

With the Miami Heat on a 27 game winning streak and up 12.5 games on 2nd place in the East, the first 3 rounds of the playoffs in the East looks like a mere formality. After Miami the rest of the East are the Seven Dwarves. Who of the group of Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee can possibly beat this Heat team – and this legend in Lebron James, at their absolute apex? Can they even get more than 1 game against the Heat?

Some are selling themselves on the Pacers or Nets or the Bulls if Derrick Rose returns as a threat, but my overwhelming choice for the “Maybe… if… perhaps” threat to the Heat, is the New York Knicks.

True, the Knicks are only 11-8 after the all-star break and are both old and badly injured. They’re wilting and barely holding onto their division lead and a top 3 seed. The Knicks are not a sexy choice right now.

My case starts with going back to the 2011 Mavericks, the only team to beat these Heat. My theory for why the Mavs pulled this off – and as I predicted before that series – is because of how weird they were to play. The Heat’s stellar athletes were forced to chase 3 point shooters around the perimeter, instead of using their athleticism to protect the paint. Of course this was added to defending Dirk’s spread/post offense at the 4, hands down the most unconventional player to guard in the league. Adding to this, defensively the Mavericks used not freakish athleticism, but intelligence and a coaching bag of tricks. The Mavericks were the opposite of the Heat. Instead of blinding athleticism and slashing, they used skill and shooting. Instead of physically dominating teams defensively, they relied on formation and positioning and weird tricks like sticking Jason Kidd on Lebron. If the Heat were Superman, a supernatural physical force of powers – then the Mavericks were Batman, a hero with no superpowers but incredible intelligence and an array of gadgets. In 2013 with the Heat playing like this, I suspect having a shot comes down to being Batman, not an inferior version of Superman.

The Knicks this year has been built very similarly to the 2011 Mavericks. On both teams Tyson Chandler manned the middle at C, with elite efficiency and positional defense. Carmelo and Dirk play the stretch PF and center the team’s offense. Then on the perimeter, the teams lack great penetrators but a group of perimeter shooters. Instead of driving into the paint against Miami’s swarming help defense, they will wait on the perimeter for shots to open up. The Heat’s athleticism is much less dynamic on defense, when it’s chasing 3 point shooters instead of blocking penetrating.

Another model for the East’s Seven Dwarves to follow is the 2009 Magic, who shocked the 66 win Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Like the 2011 Mavericks, the Magic were a weird team, defined by it’s 6’10+ 3 point shooting combo in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis flanking Dwight Howard at C. The Magic rained 3s on the Cavaliers, too short to cover those shots. The 2009 Cavaliers were flawed, but playing an untraditional team did not help matters.

In the above Mark Twain quote, the Indiana Pacers are the 2nd best swordsman in the East. They are as fundamentally sound as can get, the play the “right way.” The Heat have no reason to fear the Pacers, their straight laced fundamentals also makes them less likely to play over their heads. But the Knicks are the unconventional swordsman. By relying on the 3 pointer if they get hot and players like Jason Kidd, JR Smith and Steve Novak start hitting from the outside, no amount of athleticism chasing them on the perimeter will be able to stop those shots from going in. Defensively they are old but smart and will try to positionally block off the Heat.

Finally, the Knicks have all too much reason to be confident against the Knicks. Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd have already beat them. JR Smith is the ultimate “irrational confidence” player, to quote Bill Simmons. Carmelo Anthony is good enough to believe he can be the series’ best player. Players like Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak are also far from lacking in balls. The Knicks have also had success against the Heat this season to boost their belief.

I’m far from betting against the Heat in the East this season. But it’s no lock. Nothing is a certainty in the NBA. If I had to pick one team to “shock the world”, I’m taking those weird, unconventional swordsman New York Knicks.

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Written by jr.

March 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

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