The Eastern Conference Semifinals kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m. when the New York Knicks host the Miami Heat. The 5th-seeded Knicks are the betting favorite in Game 1 and in the series, but the Heat cannot be counted out after they dispatched No. 1 seed Milwaukee in the first round.
There are some key injuries impacting the starting lineups as this series gets underway. The Heat lost sharpshooting guard Tyler Herro to a broken hand in the last round, while the Knicks’ Julius Randle aggravated his ankle injury in Game 5 against Cleveland and is questionable for this game.
Read on for in-depth analysis of this Game 1 matchup between the Heat and Knicks, including a betting prediction, odds, key matchups and starting lineups.
Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks Game 1 Prediction
My pick: Heat +4
This matchup may not be one that anybody was expecting, as both teams were underdogs in the first round, but this series sets up as a very close matchup between two tough, physical teams.
New York beat Cleveland largely on the merits of its lockdown defense and dominant rebounding. They held the Cavaliers to an offensive rating of just 101.9, way down from their 115.5 rating in the regular season. The Knicks also grabbed an absurd 39.4% of available offensive rebounds, helping to make up for their poor offensive efficiency (an effective field goal percentage of just 48%, last in the league).
On the other side, Miami caught fire offensively, posting a 119.0 offensive rating (2nd best in the first round) thanks partly to a league playoff-high 60.5% effective field goal percentage. Those marks were dramatic improvements over their regular season performance: a 112.3 offensive rating (25th) on 53% eFG% (also 25th). And they did that against the fourth-best defense in the regular season.
New York’s defensive improvement is more sustainable than Miami’s hot offense, which is part of the reason I like the Knicks to win the series. However, after what they did against Milwaukee, I cannot in good conscience pick against the Heat until I see them start to cool off – especially Jimmy Butler, who posted a scorching 37.6 points per game on a 64.7% eFG%.
With Julius Randle also banged up to start the series, I am taking the Heat with the points in Game 1, and I would not be surprised if they win the game outright.
Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks Game 1 Betting Odds
The Knicks opened as home favorites with a spread of -4.5, which is at -4 as of this writing. These teams played four times in the regular season – with all four matchups coming after Feb. 1 – and only one of those games had a point spread of four or more. The average margin of victory in those games was five points, so this line feels about right.
The Knicks’ moneyline is at -180 while the Heat are +155 on the moneyline. Those odds are unlikely to move more than 5 to 10 points in either direction.
The over/under for this matchup opened at 207 and has stayed at that number as of Friday afternoon. That line seems a bit low, as three of the four matchups between these teams in the regular season had at least 210 points scored, and two of them had over 240.
- The Heat are 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall, while the Knicks are 4-1 in their last five.
- The Under is 5-0 in the Knicks’ last five games overall, while the Over is 6-0 in the Heat’s last six road games.
- The Heat are 1-4 ATS in their last five games against the Knicks.
Rebounding will be a big factor in this game, but if it’s a close game as expected, it could come down to which team’s stars perform best late in the game.
As mentioned above, offensive rebounding was a huge advantage for the Knicks against the Cavs. The Knicks were one of the best rebounding teams in the league this season, grabbing 52.1% of available rebounds (2nd) including 31.8% on the offensive glass (also 2nd). This helped them to be 3rd in second-chance points.
This is a matchup of strength against strength that is going to be one of the most important factors in the series. These were two of the slowest-paced teams in the regular season, and New York has played an even slower pace in the playoffs. Possessions are going to be at a premium, so the team that wins the rebounding battle is going to have a big advantage.
If this game is close late, it could come down to which team performs best in clutch time. NBA.com’s definition of “clutch” situations are possessions with five or fewer minutes remaining with a margin of five points or fewer. By that metric, Miami had the most clutch wins in the regular season with 32 and won those games 59.3% of the time (sixth best).
They picked up two more clutch wins in their final two games against Milwaukee, both of which included double-digit comebacks in the fourth quarter led by heroic performances by Jimmy Butler.
Butler and the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson were two of the best clutch players in the league this season. This game – not to mention the series – could be determined by which superstar shines brightest in the biggest moments.
Miami Heat Starting Lineups
New York Knicks Starting Lineups
Miami Heat Injuries: SG Tyler Herro (O – hand), SG Victor Oladipo (O – knee)
New York Knicks Injuries: PF Julius Randle (Q – ankle), SG Quentin Grimes (O – shoulder)