The NBA playoff bracket is set, and the Knicks will take their talents to South Beach this Saturday to play LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat.
It’s a matchup that will garner more buzz than a typical two-seed-vs-seven-seed series, due of a myriad of subplots.
First, these two teams have history. Miami’s general manager, Pat Riley, started everything when he famously left the Knicks’ coaching chair for Miami in 1995. Oh yeah, he also resigned from the job via fax (that was like the 1995 equivalent of texting). The Knicks accused Miami of poaching Riley behind the scenes, and the bad blood boiled over on the court, culminating in the infamous 1997 playoff series between the two teams, when both sides participated in a bench-clearing brawl.
That brawl led to the suspension of six players: the two role-players who started the fight, and four Knicks stars–Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Allan Houston, and Larry Johnson. Without their best players, the Knicks ended up blowing a 3-1 series lead and the Heat advanced.
A year later, in 1998, the two teams met in the playoffs again, and another fight broke out, this time featured Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning flinging punches while Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy hung on to the latter’s leg.
The Knicks ended up winning that series.
The Knicks and the Heat met two more times in 1999 and 2000. Allan Houston hit an improbable floater in the final seconds of the deciding game to win the 99 series (the Knicks went on to the Finals, losing to the Spurs ultimately), and the Knicks came back from an 11 point 4th quarter deficit to win game 7 of the 2000 series.
Although, with the exception of Riley, all the principle figures from that feud are long gone, there are plenty of connections between the current Knicks and Heat.
Basically, the Knicks want to be the Heat.
A couple of factors, such as the emergence of players like Jeremy Lin and the heavy decline of Amare Stoudemire, have quieted the talks lately, but as recently as three months ago, the Knicks were heavily promoting their “Big Three”. They wanted to be this top-heavy, superstar-driven team like the Heat. Chris Paul even joked about joining Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York to battle Miami’s trio two summers ago (at the time, Anthony wasn’t even a Knick yet, but the idea of teaming up to play together grew as soon as LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up).
Now while most subjective basketball fans know that Anthony and Stoudemire are not, and were never, in LeBron and Wade’s class, Knicks fans, well, they believed. And they probably still do.
Another connection between the two sides is that most of the major figues involved–LeBron, Wade, Anthony, and Bosh–all came from the 2003 draft class. These guys are all friends and have known each other since they were teens.
Finally, there’s this: New York wanted LeBron in the summer of 2010, badly. Remember that embarrassing video of mayor Bloomberg pleading–practically begging–LeBron to come? Remember the Knicks clearing cap space two years in advance to prepare for LeBron’s free agency?
New York even planned a celebrity welcome tour for LeBron in July 2010. Of course, LeBron ended up choosing Miami over New York (and Cleveland, among others), and New Yorkers have not forgiven him since.
No one will get bigger boos in Madison Square Garden this year than LeBron James. Not even Nickelback.
This being the Village Voice and all, we’ve focused most of the attention on the Knicks, but really, this year’s NBA Playoffs is shaping up to be ultra fun, with many other story lines. Here’s a quick rundown on what else to watch for, because, um, the Knicks probably won’t be playing that long.
1: Boston Celtic’s Final Run
The most consistently good team in the NBA for the past five years have been the Boston Celtics. Ever since they landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the summer of 2007, they’ve been a defensive juggernaut and a well-oiled machine. With players like Garnett and Allen in rapid decline due to age–they’re also in the final year of their contracts–it’s been widely acknowledged that this will be the core’s final year together. So even if you’re wired to hate on Boston sports teams, take the time to admire these Celtics. Check out how unselfish they play (Carmelo Anthony could really learn a thing or two from Paul Pierce about adjusting his game to involve teammates), admire Allen’s sweet stroke, Garnett’s defensive intensity, and Rondo’s insanely well-rounded game.
2: Swan Song For Two Old Dogs?
We just mentioned Kevin Garnett’s old age. There’ve been rumors that this will be his final season. He may not be walking away alone, as his longtime rival, Tim Duncan, may also be calling it a career after this post season. Along with Dirk Nowitzki, Duncan and Garnett have been the epitome of power forward excellence over the last decade and a half. Duncan, especially, is going to retire as the greatest power forward of all time, arguably the best big man of our generation. Appreciate these two before they’re gone–next thing we know, we’ll be stuck with knuckleheads like JaVale McGee and Blake Griffin and his pretentious stare.
3: LeBron’s Gonna Win His Third MVP, But It Doesn’t Matter Until He Wins In June.
LeBron James will win this season’s MVP award, it’s pretty much a done deal. Ironically, this may not be a good thing for the Heat, as winning a third MVP would only add more pressure to LeBron, who is already facing the most pressure over any other player in these playoffs. Fair or not, his reputation as a choker will blow up another level–and his third MVP award will be declared a joke–if the Heat do not win the championship this season.