Work in Sports
Home sweet home?
Homecourt may not mean advantage
Posted: Thursday May 11, 2000 11:12 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- After more than two weeks of sitting empty, Madison Square Garden will reopen for basketball Friday night as the Knicks-Heat series resumes with New York now holding the homecourt advantage -- if there really is one.
For the past three years, Miami has come to New York in dire need of a road win and has gotten one each time. The Heat are 3-4 at the Garden in the playoffs since 1997, which hardly qualifies as statistical evidence of a disadvantage.
"They're a good team," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said Thursday, "and good teams can win anywhere they play. That's really what it says."
Last year, the Heat faced elimination in Game 4 at the Garden but outscored the Knicks 29-10 in the fourth quarter to force a deciding Game 5.
The previous year, the series was tied 1-1 when Miami came to New York and won Game 3.
And in 1997, the Heat took Game 6 on New York's home court as Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and Charlie Ward sat out with suspensions stemming from a fight in Game 5.
"Being at home only does so much. It won't win the game for you," Houston said. "They know that, and they just have to put themselves in position to win. We have to take advantage of it by protecting it."
Miami also won once during the regular season on the Knicks' home court, helping the Heat win the season series 3-1. The Heat always try to make themselves feel as much at home as possible in an arena they've visited so many times.
Alonzo Mourning always sits in the same spot atop the scorer's table during timeouts, and also always grabs the biggest stall in the cramped, stuffy visitors' locker room. P.J. Brown always dresses to Mourning's left in the room's most crowded corner.
Coach Pat Riley knows the place well, too, having occupied the coach's office directly across the hall from the Knicks' locker room from 1991-95.
Garden fans invariably break into an anti-Riley chant each time the Heat visit, although their enthusiasm for the ritual has decreased in recent years.
"Homecourt advantage is only what you make of it, so we're not worrying about it," Van Gundy said. "We've got to come out and play a great basketball game, deal with that result and move on to play a good Game 4."
The Knicks will again try to contain Mourning by trying to keep him from setting up deep in the low post. They did so in Game 2 by hindering him as he ran upcourt, putting a body in his way every chance they could to give Ewing a chance to sprint upcourt and get in between Mourning and the basket.
The Knicks also expect to continue to see double-teams whenever their two primary scorers, Houston and Latrell Sprewell, have the ball.
Houston shot 3-for-14 and Sprewell was 2-for-13 in Game 2.
"They have to pick up the scoring a little bit, but every time they're touching the ball they're getting double-teamed," Knicks forward Marcus Camby said. "Usually when a guy is the first option, he's not going to get the shot against Miami. They force other players to make shots, and the rest of us have to knock down shots for us to be successful."
The Heat will look for better games out of their point guards, the hobbled Tim Hardaway and rookie Anthony Carter. Miami also must do better at the free throw line after going 19-for-33 in Game 2, including eight straight misses early in the game.
Then again, free throw accuracy is no barometer of success for the Heat -- especially in New York.
In Game 3 of their first-round series against the Knicks in 1998, they led by four points with 1:23 left and proceeded to miss seven of eight free throws the rest of the way. Yet they won anyway, which may prove more than anything that the homecourt advantage means little when these two teams get together.