By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
The media's overplaying of the bloodlust angle has obscuredat least partiallysome of the real stories of this series. Such as Jamal Mashburn. The Heat forward scored 21 points and held Sprewell to 11 in Game 1, but hasn't yet impacted a series in his seven-year career. Can he do it now? Are the Heat hungrier and more dangerous knowing that another playoff failure will result in the gutting of their roster? Did Game 1 indicate that the Heat have closed the biggest gap between the teams, which was the Knicks' superior execution in the final two minutes? And how key will the supporting casts prove to be?
"In my mind, the play of the benches will decide this series," says ESPN analyst Dr. Jack Ramsay. "Van Gundy only uses three guys: Camby, Thomas, and Childs. But Riley will have Anthony Carter backing up Hardaway, Clarence Weatherspoon coming in at forward, Bruce Bowen guarding Houston, and Otis Thorpe backing up Mourning. Riley may even bring in [three-point threat] Rodney Buford if the Heat struggles offensively. Those guys will be more important than anybody realizes."
The tabloids and the screamers on WFAN would love it if this one turned ugly before it was over, but here's hoping that the quality of play is the story for once. Hot rivalries don't have to feature bench-clearing brawls. Sometimes the cheap shots can be delivered more subtly.
That was the case when Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers battled it out for the NBA crown three times in the '80s. Before one of their matchups in the dumpy, oppressively hot Boston Garden, the fed-up Lakers demanded air conditioners for their claustrophobic locker room. Sure enough, when Magic, Kareem, and Co. arrived for the next game the appliances were therestacked on the floor and still in their cardboard boxes.
Grudge matches. They don't make 'em like they used to.