The top two teams in the Eastern Conference will face off at the American Airlines Arena Thursday night when the Miami Heat host the New York Knicks. New York had the upper hand in their first meeting, cruising to a 104-84 victory at Madison Square Garden in November.
The winner of this game will take the lead in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The Heat can reassert themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks can prove their November win was no fluke.
Miami committed 21 turnovers and shot just 47% that night in New York, while the Knicks were a scorching hot 19 of 36 from three-point range to pull off the upset. Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points that night, while Miami's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were held to just 50 points combined.
Both teams are in the top 3 in the NBA in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), but the Knicks have vastly outperformed the Heat on defense. The Heat are coming off a shocking 105-101 loss to bottom-dweller Washington on Tuesday, only the Wizards' second win of the season.
You move on," Wade said after the game. "You learn from it, but you don't become a good team by holding onto certain losses — or certain wins."
Both the Heat and Knicks are dealing with injuries to key players. Miami has been without starter Shane Battier for three games, and starting PG Mario Chalmers missed the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game after jamming his finger.
Battier and Chalmers both participated in the Heat's pregame shootaround Thursday morning, along with Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem, who are battling a groin and hip injury, respectively. They are game-time decisions for Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Knicks could be without top scorer Carmelo Anthony, who sustained a deep cut on his left middle finger in Wednesday's game against Charlotte. The Heat are assuming he will play. "Right now it's numb, so I don't know," Anthony said after Wednesday's game.
Vegas has the Heat as a 7-point favorite at home, where they have beat the Knicks in 9 of their past 10 meetings (including the playoffs). Miami's suspect defense will be tested by the Knicks, who showed the rest of the league how to beat the Heat using ball movement and three-point shooting.
But Miami can score in bunches, too, and that has gotten them out of many a jam early this season. Can the Heat continue the pattern? Coverage starts at 8pm on TNT.