The No. 8 seeded Miami Heat pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NBA Playoffs, advancing past Giannis Antetokounmpo the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games. Jalen Brunson and the No. 5 seeded New York Knicks had their way against the No. 4 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, winning their first round series in five games as well.
Jimmy Butler was the best performer in the first round of the playoffs, but will that continue against the Knicks? Can Brunson and RJ Barrett lead New York to another series victory against a gritty Heat team? Find all the information you need to know heading into this matchup below, including a prediction!
Regular Season Matchups
Heat at Knicks: 2/2/2023
Result: Knicks 106-104 Heat
Knicks F RJ Barrett: 30 points, 13-for-23 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists
Heat F Bam Adebayo: 32 points, 11-for-16 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists
Knicks at Heat: 3/3/2023
Result: Knicks 122-120 Heat
Knicks F Julius Randle: 43 points, 16-for-25 shooting, 8-for-13 shooting from three
Heat F Jimmy Butler: 33 points, 7-for-15 shooting, 18-for-20 shooting from the free throw line
Knicks at Heat: 3/22/2023
Result: Heat 127-120 Knicks
Heat F Jimmy Butler: 35 points, 11-for-19 shooting, 11-for-14 shooting from the free throw line
Knicks F RJ Barrett: 26 points, 8-for-13 shooting, six rebounds, five assists
Heat at Knicks: 3/29/2023
Result: Knicks 101-92 Heat
Knicks G Immanuel Quickley: 24 points, 8-for-14 shooting, 2-for-5 shooting from three
Knicks G Gabe Vincent: 21 points, 8-for-11 shooting, 4-for-5 shooting from three, three assists
Three Major Storylines
1. The Heroics of Jimmy Butler
The play of the 33-year-old is the biggest reason why the Heat were able to advance past the Bucks in the first-round. Butler averaged 37.6 points on 59.7 percent shooting and 44.4 percent shooting from three. He had a series-high 56 points in Game 4, including 19-for-28 shooting and 15-for-18 shooting from the free throw line. Butler has been the best performer in these playoffs, reminding those who forgot about his high level of play in postseason games.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is familiar with the star forward, as he played under him in Chicago and Minnesota. If he allows Butler to score at will, it may be a long series for the likes of Josh Hart, Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett. The Bucks chose to play him straight up, giving two-time All-NBA Defensive First Team recipient Jrue Holiday the toughest assignment. Butler had his way in all five games, even against an elite defender at the guard position.
The Knicks doubled Donovan Mitchell quite a bit in the first round, making Darius Garland and Caris LeVert beat them off the dribble. They may not do it as much with the Heat, who have more weapons on the perimeter (Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, etc…). Regardless, the Knicks need to defend Butler with much more effectiveness if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. The Availability of Julius Randle
In the second quarter of Game 5 between the Knicks and the Cavaliers, Julius Randle landed on the foot of Caris LeVert, reaggravating his sprained ankle. The All-Star forward did not return to the game, and despite his absence, New York was able to hold on for the win, clinching their spot in the second round of the playoffs. Now, as the Knicks shift their focus to the Heat, what kind of impact will Randle have on this series?
Randle is not 100 percent and may not be for the rest of the postseason, so it is difficult to envision a scenario where he is playing at his best. The numbers back that up, as he averaged 14.4 points on 33.8 percent shooting and 23.5 percent shooting from three in the five games against the Cavaliers. The ankle had to have played some sort of role in his shooting woes, certainly something to keep an eye on in this upcoming matchup.
The 28-year-old is questionable for Game 1 on Sunday, but even if he is unable to go in that one, his numbers against the Heat in the regular season should serve as a point for optimism. Randle averaged 21 points on 49.2 percent shooting along with 7.5 rebounds in four games against Miami. If he can replicate that output when he is able to return to the court, the Knicks will like their chances.
3. Three-Point Shooting
The three-point shooting for both of these teams is going to be one of the deciding factors in this series. Jalen Brunson and the Knicks were incredible against the Cavaliers, but they shot 28.2 percent from downtown as a team. Hart led the way at 45.5 percent, although he only had 11 attempts. New York shot the ball much better from three in the regular season, ranking 19th in the league 35.4 percent.
It was a much different story for the Heat, who struggled from three-point range throughout the regular season. Miami ranked 27th in the league at 34.4 percent from downtown, the lowest total for any team who made the playoffs. That all changed in their series against the Bucks, as they shot 45 percent from three. Six players in the rotation who played meaningful minutes shot 35 percent or higher from long range.
The Heat will go to zone defense every once and a while, a strategy that may create a lot of success in this matchup. New York can shoot the ball better from three, but even if they do, that really isn’t their game. Brunson, Barrett and Randle are most effective inside the arc, as they constantly look to drive the ball to the hole.
Miami had everything rolling against Milwaukee, so it is difficult to see them shooting it just as well versus New York. All the attention will be on Butler, so their three-point shooters will certainly have the space to knock down shots. The contrasting levels of shooting from distance will be fascinating to watch in this one.
How Miami Can Win:
The Heat will go on to win this series if their supporting cast can continue to produce at an efficient level. Yes, Jimmy Butler was incredible in the five games against the Bucks, but credit has to be given to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. His ability to mix rotations in a way that brought the best out of his bench changed the entire series. The play of Duncan Robinson is a perfect example. He went from being out of the rotation to shooting 73.7 percent from three against Milwaukee. The Heat will need their complementary pieces to hit open looks when all the attention is on Butler.
Miami needs Bam Adebayo to be dominant, especially considering how impactful Mitchell Robinson was versus the two bigs in Cleveland. The Heat have an All-Star level big in the former Kentucky Wildcat, and that will need to show in this matchup what the Knicks. The Heat ran the offense with Adebayo in the final minutes of Game 5 against the Bucks, so it will be interesting to see if they go back to that in New York. The 25-year-old needs to have a presence on both ends of the floor in order for the Heat to advance.
How New York Can Win:
The Knicks took a lot of positives from their five-game series with the Cavaliers, but maybe the biggest one was the play of RJ Barrett. He was fantastic over the final three games, bouncing back after some difficult performances to start the playoffs. New York needs him to stay aggressive and look for his own shot, especially if Julius Randle is going to continue playing on that injured ankle. Jalen Brunson will be able to get his, but the Knicks need someone to give them 18-22 points as a secondary option. If Randle can’t provide that, Barrett is the next man up for the job.
New York needs Mitchell Robinson to continue attacking the glass with no hesitation. The Knicks center got whatever he wanted against Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen over the Cavaliers, securing 29 offensive rebounds across the five games. Robinson is having the best season of his career, giving the team a weapon they have not had in years past. If he is able to out muscle Adebayo and Kevin Love, the Knicks may be in great shape.
Series Prediction: New York Knicks over the Miami Heat in seven games
This is a series that is going to be determined by the smallest of margins, such as winning the rebound battle, limiting turnovers and defending the three-point line. Not much separates these two teams in terms of individual talent, so the little things are going to make a huge difference in this matchup. Jimmy Butler will be the best player on the floor throughout the series, but without Tyler Herro, I worry about the Heat’s supporting cast. The Knicks, led by Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, will close this series out at home in Game 7.