The Miami Heat have lost eight of their last nine road games against teams in position to make the playoffs. During that stretch, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been terrific, but Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has had a devil of a time figuring out who can contribute, and when.
Chris Bosh has been having the worst year of his career since his rookie year, and recently it's only gotten worse. He's become completely passive in the offense, which means his lackluster defense on opposing power forwards is even more of an issue when he's on the court. Spoelstra also can't decide on any night whether to give Shane Battier, James Jones, Norris Cole, Terrel Harris or Mike Miller minutes, and the inconsistency in his rotations has led to inconsistencies in the play of his wingmen. Couple that with the black hole of offense that is Joel Anthony and that Ronny Turiaf didn't really play the first few months of the season, and it's not difficult to see where the Heat have had problems.
The New York Knicks (31-28) will be the Heat's hosts Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, and their issues, for once, are not of their own doing. They've been adequate since Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin went down with injuries, but they haven't looked like a dangerous potential playoff opponent. Interestingly enough, if the season ended today, their first-round opponent would be the selfsame Heat. Carmelo Anthony is finally playing up to his capabilities on both ends of the court, but if he has to do it himself offensively every single game, the team won't go far.
The underlying story of the Knicks' entire season has been Tyson Chandler's campaign for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The Knicks have managed to win games when Anthony, Stoudemire and Lin have been out of the lineup, but the one consistency has been Chandler. The Knicks are a Top 5 defensive team in the league, and his activity the main reason for that. Iman Shumpert's perimeter contributions have also become noteworthy. He's become a lockdown defender, and he'll be tasked with guarding Wade.
'Melo and LeBron have a history of terrific matchups, made even more entertaining by the fact that they guard each other. That won't happen Sunday as Stoudemire's injury has forced Anthony to play power forward. He'll be guarding Bosh and Landry Fields will be tasked with slowing down James. The lack of offensive presence from the center position on the Heat will allow Chandler to roam free as a help defender, which could be the difference in sending the Heat to their ninth loss in their last ten road games against good teams.