A Knick's Eye View of the NBA Finals

What can the Knicks learn from the NBA Finals matchup?

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Jun 12, 2012  |  Updated 4:22 PM EDT
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A Knick's Eye View of the NBA Finals

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One of these two men will get where the Knicks want to go.

Wednesday is a very big day for the Knicks.

That's when an arbitrator will take on the issue of whether players claimed off waivers retain the Early Bird Rights that allow teams to exceed the salary cap when re-signing them as free agents. The futures of Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak will be partially shaped by the decision and the future of the Knicks will be almost completely shaped by it.

For the rest of the basketball world, though, Tuesday night is the big night. It's the start of the NBA Finals and we've got a matchup that many people have been hoping to see since the start of the season.

In one corner are the Heat, cobbled together out of superstar egos and trying to finally put something of merit behind the outlandish celebratory introduction that followed the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami. In the other corner stand the Thunder, a team built through the more traditional avenues of savvy drafting and sharp trading to become something more than the team ripped away from Seattle.

The Knicks obviously cast their lot with the Heat's approach, right down to the overlapping of skills among their star players and the lack of a point guard to direct traffic when things get hinky. We could complain about the fact that the Knicks passed on the chance to build around Oklahoma City's blueprint (and we have), but the fact remains that the Knicks cast their lot with the kind of imperfect balance that the Heat have in place.

Those differences pale in comparison to the similarities, though. There were plenty of moments in this postseason when it seemed that the Heat would falter short of reaching this round and the Thunder looked finished after the first two games against the Spurs.

Both teams survived and the reason was the superlative performance of their best player in both cases. James played as good a game as he will ever play in Game Six to beat the Celtics and Kevin Durant played as good a quarter as he will ever play in the fourth quarter of Game Four to even the Western Conference Finals.

In neither case did the opposing team win another game or, quite frankly, ever seem like they'd win another game. It was one thing to beat the Heat or Thunder with those players doing their usual.

Beating them when they were summoning up the full depth of their powers, though? As impossible to imagine as it was when teams were trying to slow Michael Jordan's unyielding run to another title.

That should be of some solace to the Knicks because they have a player capable of playing a game as good as those players played with their backs against the wall. We've seen Carmelo Anthony take on good teams by himself and come out a winner on the other side, albeit in the regular season far more often than in the playoffs.

Underrate the importance of such a player at your own peril because the list of NBA champions without them is almost impossible to find. The team around Anthony needs work, to be sure, but these two teams have both spent key moments of their season playing Hero Ball because nothing else would suffice.

There are other lessons that the Knicks can learn. The Thunder show the benefits of chemistry borne over time and the Heat provide a reminder that there's no real substitute for talent, but the Knicks already knew those things.

They knew the thing about the superstar, too. The Knicks know just as well as everyone else what they need to do to become a championship team.

It's actually doing it that's the problem.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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