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Knicks vs. Heat Preview: Never underestimate the evil of Pat Riley

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Good D, good coach.

NBA: Miami Heat at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This won't be as easy as it looks.

On paper, the Miami team that has destroyed the Knicks for years has thankfully fallen into disarray. Dwyane Wade's constant beef with Pat Riley over the details of his contract (he took a paycut throughout the "Big 3" years, and wanted to make his money back) resulted in a big ol' game of free agent chicken, which Wade won by flipping off Riley and signing with the Bulls. On the sadder side of things, Chris Bosh was diagnosed with a second blood clot in this offseason. Because of complications stemming from those blood clots, he may never play again in the NBA.

Instead, the Heat are trotting out a bunch of John Benders. Dion Waiters! James Johnson! Luke Babbitt! And let's not forget the always entertaining Derrick "Bleached the tip of a mop and put it on my head" Williams! Miami supplements their group of misfits with a bunch of limited role players like Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and _ustise Winslow. Johnson is a bouncy combo guard with a jumper and some athleticism; Richardson is a sniper from downtown and a decent defender who doesn't really do much else (jinx); _ustise Winslow has no J (booooo) but tries really hard, and has shown some nice ball-handling skills. And let me be very clear -- just because they are limited does NOT mean they are bad. Any one of those guys can play well enough to turn the tides in favor of Miami. To round it out, you've got Goran Dragic, who will probably spend half the game lovingly glancing at ex-coach Hornacek, wondering where it all went wrong. "But Zach", you say, "Goran Dragic is pretty good! You shouldn't put him in with the rest of those guys". And a cursory look at his numbers shows that he's averaging 17/7, which is definitely pretty good! But those numbers are deceiving -- he's posting his lowest shooting efficiency since 2010-11 (despite being buoyed by an abnormally high free throw rate). And on film, Dragic looks low-key washed. I'm sure he'll go off tonight, because that's just how these things work, but it looks like Dragic is nearing the end.

The only major piece they have is Hassan Whiteside. He leads the league in punchability per 100 possessions, closely followed by Draymond Green (Whiteside's antics are a little quieter, but he does have a long history combined with a more punchable face), which will make it extra annoying when he brutalizes the Knicks on the offensive glass. Whiteside leads the league in offensive tip-ins, and the Knicks suck at defensive rebounding...probably a good start in daily fantasy leagues. He's a menace as a finisher in the pick and roll, and he's also shown a surprisingly effective midrange jumper. Much like Dwight Howard, Whiteside clearly wants to become a good low post option as well (and he's overall kinda OK down there), but his moves are what you'd expect from C-3P0. He predetermines his footwork, he's stiff, he doesn't really have any counter-moves, and he might be the worst passer in the league. With Joakim Noah and the stable of bigs behind him, the Knicks probably won't have to worry about that; in fact, they should encourage it. A double-teamed Whiteside is a recipe for hilarity and defensive success.

Basically, on paper, this Miami team is completely outclassed in terms of overall talent. Unfortunately for us, games aren't played on paper -- and in practice, this is the EXACT type of team the Knicks tend to struggle against.

Miami, despite dropping down to 11th in defensive rating this week, is a strong defensive team. Ole "Gumby Arms" Whiteside and Winslow are the two key defensive pieces, but the Heat as a team love to play hard, physical defense. The Heat can beat anyone -- IF given the opportunity.

"Given the opportunity", in this case, refers to two things. The first, team defense, is a point I've been harping on since I started writing these things. This is NOT the type of team who can put on a ton of offensive pressure from a group of elite offensive players surrounded by shooters. Miami is a meager 24th in offensive rating, and they're only THAT high because of the always underrated Eric Spoelstra, as their overall offensive talent is baaaaaaaaad. If the Knicks ever plan on becoming a decent defensive team, this is the game to show signs of growth -- even a mediocre defensive team should be able to hold Miami under 100 points pretty easily.

That, of course, ties into the second part of giving Miami the opportunity to win. The Knicks must stay cool and play calm, controlled ball on both ends. Getting worked up by physical, intense defense can quickly snowball -- think back to the last time the Knicks played a physical defense like this (cough BOSTON cough), and how they fell apart when the refs wouldn't give them the time of day. That cannot happen again, even if the refs end up giving Miami an advantage. The Heat force a ton of turnovers, and they use those opportunities to bolster their offensive numbers; the Knicks cannot let Miami run out in transition after steals. Taking care of the ball will be key, much like it was in Boston. Dead ball turnovers are OK; live ball turnovers are not.

In terms of specific matchups, it's not clear who Miami is going to start, or who will be available for either team. Both squads have a lot of tiny injuries that are starting to pile up. Goran Dragic vs. Derrick Rose will probably be the barometer of success for both teams (advantage Rose, by the way), but Noah vs. Whiteside, especially on the glass, will be another important matchup. Whiteside has a bit of a temper, and at this point Jo is basically that annoying dude in pickup who is actually pretty bad but he keeps pushing you and touching you at all times, to the point where you want to punt him into the sun. Noah easily got under DeMarcus Cousins' skin on Sunday, and I expect he'll be trying hard to do so again.

If the Knicks avoid getting into their own heads, execute defensively, and limit the live ball turnovers, this should be a pretty easy win. Miami is somehow 2-7 at home, so maybe our road woes will be neutered by the mass exodus of Miami fans since the end of the Big 3 era.

Prediction - Knicks win, 107-101