This Sunday or next Sunday: Which matters more?
The first of consecutive Sunday games for the Miami Heat is against an established rival, on the road, nationally televised by ABC.
The second is against an emerging, big muscle threat, albeit at the cozier confines of AmericanAirlines Arena, with the national coverage limited to the reach of NBA TV.
This Sunday, it's the New York Knicks.
Next Sunday, it's the Indiana Pacers.
To one NBA scout with decades in the business, there is no doubt which means more.
Even if it means having to wait.
"The biggest threat? It's the Pacers, by default," said the scout, who recently tracked the Heat in person for several games. "The Knicks are aged. That team doesn't have any continuity."
Both the Pacers and Knicks own a pair of victories over the Heat. But the Knicks are the only team with a pair of 20-point victories over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh & Co.
"I just don't see it in a seven-game series," the veteran scout said of the Knicks.
For the Knicks, the three has been the thing, 19 of 36 on 3-pointers in the teams' first meeting, 18 of 44 in the second.
"That was a key last season, also," the scout said of the Knicks' 3-point shooting during the regular season going south in the teams' opening-round playoff series, which the Heat won 4-1. "One pattern is 3-point shooters during the regular season who have no athleticism become complete non-factors in the playoffs.
"Just look at Steve Novak."
Novak not only couldn't find his range in last season's opening-round series, he couldn't even create space to launch.
By contrast, the scout said the Pacers' size isn't going anywhere, less likely to be stifled by the Heat's athleticism.
"Their X-factor might be Paul George because he's emerged," the scout said of the All-Star wing. "And (Danny) Granger, who knows what you're going to get out of him?"
Granger only now is returning from an offseason knee issue.
Unlike the Knicks last postseason, the Pacers pushed the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a six-game series that easily could have gone seven, albeit with Bosh sidelined for all but the start of the first game of that series.
"They have the confidence," the scout said of the Pacers. "So much of this is mindset."
In Heat-Knicks, Mike Woodson hardly has been adversarial. There has been a respect for the Heat's Big Three, just as there was two-way respect when Woodson's Atlanta Hawks ousted Spoelstra's Heat prior to the start of the Big Three era.
The Pacers' Frank Vogel, by contrast, has accused the Heat of flopping, thuggery, consistently stressed that his team will not back down.
Where the drama used to come in Heat-Knicks when Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy were on the opposing benches, Heat-Pacers is now more likely to create what was seen in Heat-Knicks in the late '90s.
Beyond George, the scout points to David West as the Pacer most likely to inflict pain.
"He's a legitimately tough guy," the scout said. "He's a legitimate post-up guy."
Yet while that might make next Sunday as the game more likely to open a window into the playoffs, the scout also stressed perspective about the Pacers.
"They're a cut below," he said in relation to the Heat. "It's a seven-game series. A five-game series would probably give them a better shot."
As for the Heat?
"Right now," he said, "Miami kind of looks unbeatable."
In the lane
ANOTHER VOTE: And then there's NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony on how the Pacers just might have a fighting chance against the Heat in the playoffs. "They have something that a lot of teams in the East don't have," Anthony said. "They really believe they can beat Miami. A lot of teams will say it, but deep down, psychologically, they might not believe it. I don't know if Indiana can beat Miami, but when you believe it and you have that confidence, that's the kind of team that will make it difficult for Miami. They won't be afraid of that moment when the opportunity presents itself."
OK THEN: Kudos to Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer Jerry Zgoda who last week got the intimate details directly from the source on Michael Beasley's estate sale before the former Heat first-round pick left the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency for the Phoenix Suns. Beasley insists some of the oddly available items were brought in by the company that handled the event, including, "purses and earrings and stuff." Admitted Beasley, "That kind of messed up my street cred. I'm a gangster on the street. I had some stuff that wouldn't fit into my house (in Phoenix), so we just sold it. A lot of the furniture was mine. The dresses and purses? Not mine." So much for Beasley as the next Dennis Rodman.
END GAME: With seven weeks left in the season, with Doug Collins practically waving the white flag with the Philadelphia 76ers and with the Toronto Raptors yet to fully hit their stride with Rudy Gay, it's looking more and more like the Eastern Conference's eight-team playoff field is set. With that said, and with the Heat looking like a lock at No. 1, keep in mind that in the race to avoid No. 8 (the first-round opponent of No. 1), the Milwaukee Bucks already having clinched the tiebreaker against the Boston Celtics, taking that series 3-1. Heat vs. Celtics in the first round? You'd have to figure it hardly would be the preference for Erik Spoelstra & Co. It would, however, be the fourth consecutive postseason that the teams would have met.
TRUE COLORS: What is clear, even just two seasons in, is that former Pine Crest standout Brandon Knight is an NBA-level scorer. Less clear is whether the Detroit Pistons 2011 first-round pick is an NBA-level point guard. Now playing alongside Jose Calderon, Knight had a breakout, career-high 32-point performance in Wednesday's victory over the Washington Wizards. At 6 feet 3 and generously listed at 189 pounds, Knight is a classic backcourt 'tweener. With it unlikely the Pistons retain Calderon as a free agent, Knight's career could come down to what Detroit does next alongside him in their backcourt, where playing alongside another 'tweener in Rodney Stuckey hardly produced overwhelming results.
CHIPPING IN: Mitch Richmond has put his money where his mouth is, offering $1 million as part of a local-ownership committee, as part of a much grander overall bid, to help keep the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle. The former Boyd Anderson star previously joked how his retired Sacramento jersey might get lost in the shuffle amid the push to re-launch the SuperSonics. Richmond's contribution is part of the bid for the seven-percent stake of the Kings being auctioned in bankruptcy court.
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