Heat vs. Knicks preview: Is New York back on track?

USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks will try to make it nine a row against a Heat team that will be playing without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers.

After getting out to an eye-popping 18-5 start then stumbling to a .500 record over the next three months, the Knicks seem to be catching fire at the right time. New York has won eight games in a row, moving themselves within a half game of the Pacers for the No. 2 seed out East. On Tuesday, they'll have a golden opportunity to continue their move up the standings when they travel to Miami to play a Heat team resting their two main stars. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast nationally on TNT.

When Erik Spoelstra didn't play LeBron, Wade or Chalmers against the Spurs on Sunday, many thought it was a response to the Spurs' decision to rest their stars in Miami earlier in the season. However, with the tiebreaker and a 3.5-game lead on San Antonio for home-court advantage in the playoffs in hand, it appears the Heat have decided to coast towards the finish of the regular season. LeBron and Wade both play a physical, attacking style that puts tremendous stress on their bodies, so it makes sense for Spoelstra to look for time to rest them before the playoffs.

And while it would be easy for the Knicks to overlook this game, this same depleted Miami roster defeated the Spurs, 88-86, on Sunday in San Antonio. Chris Bosh had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists as the featured player in the Heat offense and hit a game-winning three in the final seconds. Without their superstars, the Heat reached further into their bench on Sunday and played an excellent all-around game, moving the ball crisply on offense and blitzing Tony Parker into a 4-of-14 shooting night.

Nevertheless, they will certainly miss LeBron and Wade's on-ball defense when they take on a streaking Knicks team led by Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith. Amar'e Stoudemire's injury has forced New York to rely more heavily on their two main offensive weapons and their improved play has been one of the catalysts for this win streak. In their last five games, Carmelo is averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists on 40.5% shooting while Smith is at a preposterous 28 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2 assists on 54.5% shooting.

J.R. Smith

Smith, an explosive but enigmatic scorer, has been one of the front-runners for the Sixth Man of the Year Award all season. At 6'6 220, his ability to create his own shot off the bounce has been a lifesaver for a Knicks offense that tends to stagnate. However, the knock on Smith has long been that for every game he shoots you into, he shoots you out of another one. That's changed during this win streak, as Smith has made a concerted effort to attack the rim and take fewer contested jumpers. He's averaging 9.6 free throw attempts in the last five games, a good indication of a player refusing to settle for bad shots. A strong performance on national TV could go a long way towards solidifying his chances at the award.

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