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Three biggest questions ahead of the Heat-Knicks series
Game 1 tips off Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
You still might be coming off the high of downing the Milwaukee Bucks in five games, but the Miami Heat will square off with the New York Knicks inside Madison Square Garden Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Let’s dive into my biggest questions heading into the series.
1. How *much* does Miami’s shooting regress, if at all?
As delightful as it was for Heat fans, what we saw in the Milwaukee Bucks series was not what we saw throughout the previous 84 games offensively.
The Heat were the No. 25 offensively in the regular season with the fourth-worst 3-point percentage; even without Tyler Herro (for the most part) in five games against Milwaukee, Miami shot 45 percent from 3-point range and tallied 119 points per 100 possessions, which were first and second among playoff teams in the first round, respectively.
Recall this came against a top-5 defense with three elite defenders in Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who only played in roughly half of the series. The Knicks were No. 19 defensively in the regular season, but I still don’t expect it to shoot 45 percent from deep again.
Though if the 3-point shooting can collectively hover around 40 percent from multiple contributors — a few being Kevin Love, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and, believe it or not, Jimmy Butler — on similar volume, it should be in a good spot.
2. How will New York defend Jimmy Butler?
Jimmy Butler has arguably been the best player in these playoffs thus far, averaging 37.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals on 59.7 percent shooting, 44.4 percent from 3-point range with a true-shooting percentage of 67.1 percent!
That’s beyond ludicrous — including scoring 98 combined points over the final two games on a heavy dose of contested non-paint 2s.
The Knicks have multiple bodies they can throw at Butler, beginning with Josh Hart and Quentin Grimes (when healthy). Hart and Grimes are both good screen navigators, so any time Butler’s willing to mismatch hunt, it’s going to become more difficult since both can sliver around screens and muck up further halfcourt actions.
The Knicks will likely throw Jalen Brunson, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle (when healthy) on Butler too, just to give him and the personnel around him a few different looks with a mixed bag of coverages.
Don’t be surprised if Tom Thibodeau begins to send two to the ball in the post, off the catch or in the pick-and-roll to try to get the ball out of Butler’s hands, unlike Mike Budenholzer did in the Milwaukee series -- if you don’t, you ultimately see what happens, no matter who’s defending him one-on-one.
3. Can Miami withstand New York’s offensive rebounding?
The Knicks, who ranked No. 2 in offensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, put on a #masterclass™ in the first round on the glass against Cleveland.
New York secured 39.6 percent of their non-garbage time misses in the first round, including 41.2 percent of them in the halfcourt, per Cleaning The Glass. Both of those marks were (by far) the highest among first-round squads, led by Mitchell Robinson, who was the best big in the Knicks-Cavs series that involved Randle, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
In the regular season, Cleveland was No. 20 in defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage; despite its lack of true size, Miami sported the fourth-best defensive rebounding percentage and held New York to a modest 28.3 offensive rebounding percentage in their four regular-season meetings. Though we saw how vulnerable Miami can be if the effort isn’t there (i.e. Atlanta play-in game).
Possessions will be at a premium this series; both teams do a fairly good job taking care of the ball, so the possession battle could be determined at the glass, similarly to how it was in the regular season matchups.