After finally ending their three-game losing streak with a comfortable and dominant win against the lowly Rockets, the 43-33 Knicks host the 40-36 Heat in what will be a crucial game with significant seeding implications. The Heat, much like the Knicks, have struggled as of late. They find themselves three games behind the Knicks with just six games left. And because of that, Miami, who is coming off of a rather ugly loss, should be coming in to Wednesday’s game with some urgency. A loss would put them four games behind and end their hopes at making a run at the fifth seed. Meanwhile, a win would propel them to just two games behind and give them some much needed life heading in to the final weeks of the season.
However, New York needs this win just as badly. On top of the game having a large effect on the standings, the Knicks are just 4-6 in their last 10 games. After what has been a subpar three week stretch, they would love to start stringing together wins and get back to playing the kind of basketball they were earlier in the season.
Gabe Vincent (6’3”, 200 lb), who is averaging a career-high 9.3PPG and 2.1RPG should continue to start at point guard for the Heat. With the team struggling, the Heat need all the help they can get so they’ll hope that Vincent, who is coming off of a rough 1-5 two point game against the Raptors, can provide the kind of spark that he did when he went off for 19 points on 12 shots against the Knicks last week.
Jalen Brunson, who is expected to be back tonight after a two-game absence, should slot back in as the starter and that should help the Knicks in a big way. In his last thee games, Brunson is averaging 24PPG and 7APG on 51.9% shooting. This season, Brunson has performed incredibly well when returning from missed games this season, so look for him to have another good game against a Heat team he had his way against last week. If Brunson cannot go though, obviously Immanuel Quickley, who just scored a career-high 40 points in the win against Houston, to start.
Starting alongside the aforementioned Vincent in the backcourt will be Tyler Herro (6’5”, 195 lb), who is averaging 20.5PPG, 5.5RPG, and 4.3APG on 44.2% from the field. Herro is coming off of an impressive 33-point performance in last night’s loss and should be aggressive once again tonight as the Heat need all the scoring they can get.
Starting at shooting guard will be Quentin Grimes, who is arguably having the best three-game stretch of his season, averaging 20.3PPG, 5.3RPG, 4.3APG, and 1.7SPG on 52.4% shooting from the field and 51.7% shooting from 3 during that span. Obviously that kind of outside shooting is not sustainable long-term but if Grimes can continue to be aggressive and efficient, while taking advantage of his increased playmaking chances, then the Knicks offense should benefit greatly.
Jimmy Butler (6’7”, 230 lb) is dealing with neck soreness and was a late scratch in last night’s game against the Raptors. He would obviously start if he feels like he can give it a go, but he is currently listed as doubtful. If he is to miss his second straight game with the ailment, expect Victor Oladipo (6’4”, 213 lb) to get the start again. And if he does, he’ll need to step up his game in a big way. It’s never easy to replace a guy like Butler but his seven-point performance in last night’s game does not cut it for a team looking to move up in the standings. If Miami is to pull out a road victory tonight without Butler, they will need Oladipo to outplay his season averages of 10PPG, 3.2RPG, and 3.4APG on 38.9% shooting.
At small forward, the Knicks will start RJ Barrett per usual. And also per usual, Barrett and the fans are seeking some sort of consistency. Over the last 11 games, Barrett is averaging 21.2PPG on 46.4% shooting while grabbing 4.8RPG and dishing out 2.7APG. Those are some pretty solid peripheral stats that most would take. That being said, during that span, he has had games where he has scored 11 points, 13 points, and 10 points, and has shot under 42% four times. And the consistency issues aren’t just on offense either. He has shown flashes of some really good effort over the last couple of weeks but he still has moments, and sometimes stretches where his defense is completely inexcusable. Barrett has played well against Miami this season, averaging 24.3PPG, 5.3RPG, and 3.7APG on a very efficient 56.9% from the field, so hopefully he can continue that trend tonight.
Kevin Love (6’8”, 251 lb) will once again start for a Heat team that currently lacks the options and depth needed in the front court. Love has had an incredible career but has seen a steep decline in his play over the last few years and is not just a shell of what he used to be. In 16 games with the Heat, Love is averaging just 7.3PPG on 37.9% shooting and has scored 10 or more points just four times. But he will be playing against a Knicks team that gave up 35 points to Taurean Prince, so anything is possible I suppose.
Leading the charge from the power forward position as usual will be Julius Randle. The All-Star forward has slowed down a bit since his 57-point outburst, averaging just 21.3PPG in his last three games, but he’s still averaging an incredibly impressive 25.4PPG, 10RPG, and 4.1APG on 46% shooting from the field. And despite scoring just 15 points against the Heat last week, he’s still averaging 27PPG, 8RPG, and 6APGon 51.7% shooting in three games against Miami this season. Randle, who only had to play 28 minutes against the Rockets on Monday, should be well rested and poised for a big game against the Heat.
Starting at center for the Heat will be their All-Star, Bam Adebayo (6’9”, 255 lb), who is averaging 20.9PPG, 9.3RPG, 3.3APG, 1.2SPG, and .9BPG. He, like Randle, didn’t exactly have a great game the last time these two teams met, but still has very good splits against the Knicks on the season, with averages of 21.7PPG and 6.7RPG. That being said, if the Heat are to win this game in New York without Butler, they may need Adebayo to step up big time and outplay those averages significantly.
And last but not least, Manning the middle for New York once again, will be Mitchell Robinson, who is having a very interesting season. He is currently averaging 7.3PPG (lowest since his rookie season), 9RPG (career-high), and 1.7BPG (second lowest of his career) while being as inconsistent on the defensive end as we’ve ever seen him. Robinson is still a good center who is crucial to the Knicks’ game plan but over the last couple weeks, he has been less impactful than he usually is. Now, he’s far from the only Knick to have had defensive issues in the past couple of weeks, and backup big man Isaiah Hartenstein has been very good as of late, lessening the team’s reliance on Robinson. But Robinson, who’s calling card is and has always been defense, needs to be better. And he’ll have his hands full tonight against Adebayo, who he hasn’t necessarily faired too well against this season.
The Knicks and Heat have played each other three times this season and all of them have been incredibly close with the first two coming down to the final seconds. And we should expect the same against tonight, especially if Butler can manage to play. These are two teams that have somewhat similar. Two teams that have struggled a bit as of late, don’t always have the prettiest or most versatile offenses but are very physical and have the potential to be good defensively. Add on the ever so obvious seeding implications and we could have yet another closely contested matchup, one in which both teams should come what with a level of urgency.
Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo will likely lead the way with Miami with both likely needing to have big games if Butler misses the game. For New York, anticipate Brunson, Randle, and Barrett all to have good games with Grimes and Quickley being the difference-maker. This one stays close for much of the game but New York runs away with it in the second half of the fourth and edges out a 120-112 win to take a four-game lead over the Heat.