Heat cap back-to-back with key matchup vs. Knicks
Tom Thibodeau, the eternally straitlaced coach of the Knicks, offered a smile with his usual bottom-line analysis following New York's victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
"You guys know what I always say about winning," Thibodeau said. "Winning is always way more fun than fun is fun."
On Wednesday night, either the Knicks or the Miami Heat will have a lot of fun -- and make the other team miserable in the process.
The Knicks and Heat will each be looking to make their path to a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference easier when New York hosts Miami in the final regular-season meeting between the longtime rivals.
The Knicks were off Tuesday after cruising to a 137-115 victory over the visiting Rockets on Monday night. The Heat will be completing a back-to-back road set after falling 106-92 to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
New York (43-33) snapped a three-game losing streak and remains in fifth place in the East, 2 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Brooklyn Nets (40-35) and three games ahead of the Heat (40-36). The top six teams in each conference earn a playoff berth while the seventh- through 10th-place clubs compete in a play-in tournament to determine the final two seeds.
Another win on Wednesday would further solidify the Knicks' playoff positioning by giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat. New York leads the season series 2-1, though Miami earned a 127-120 win in the recent meeting in Florida on March 22.
"It'll definitely have that playoff-type atmosphere, for sure," Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley said of the Wednesday contest after he scored a career-high 40 points Monday night. "Miami is a very good team. I think we're ready for that challenge though. Playing a team (a) fourth time is basically almost like a playoff series."
The Heat have struggled in a playoff-like environment over their past two games. After losing to the visiting Nets 129-100 on Saturday, Miami gradually allowed the Raptors to pull away on Tuesday. Toronto overcame a 10-point, first-quarter deficit and led 53-47 at the half. The Raptors then outscored the Heat 31-20 in the third quarter and never allowed Miami to cut the deficit to single digits in the fourth.
"We all feel a certain way about this, but we're going to regroup," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've got 24 hours; we get to play in Madison Square Garden. That's the only thing we're thinking about right now."
Miami continued its lengthy defensive slump, allowing at least 100 points for the 14th straight game. The Heat also yielded 62 points in the paint -- far more than Miami's season average of 46.1 points allowed per game in the paint, tied for second-fewest in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks lead in that category at 45.9 ppg.
"For 4 1/2 months of this season, we were the very best in the league at protecting the paint," Spoelstra said. "Since (the) All-Star break, we haven't done what we were able to do better than anybody."
Both teams may be without key players for the pivotal clash.
Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson missed his second straight game on Monday with a sprained right hand, and he was listed as questionable for Wednesday.
Heat guard Jimmy Butler, who leads the team with 22.8 points per game, was sidelined Tuesday due to a neck injury.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2023