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May 22, 2000
Tough LoveWhy the brutality of Heat vs. Knicks makes for must-see TV
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May 22, 2000

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Tough Love
Why the brutality of Heat vs. Knicks makes for must-see TV

Among the many colorful adjectives NBA fans have employed to disparage the Heat-Knicks Eastern Conference semifinal series, the most common is unwatchable. To which we offer two words: Lay off. Or better still: Look closer. The seven games the two teams will play—and make no mistake, they'll play seven—will constitute the most exciting series of the postseason. (Two more words: Stop laughing.) Herewith, our five-pronged defense:

You can't afford to miss a minute. You never know when tempers will flare between these two, only that they will—and that the point guard tossing and other forms of violence in the first quarter will be avenged by the fourth.

Every basket is precious. With Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning, tireless forward P.J. Brown and workhorse guard Dan Majerle, the Heat allowed the fourth-fewest points per game (91.2) in the regular season. The Knicks, with ball hawks Latrell Sprewell, Chris Childs and Charlie Ward, were even stingier (90.6 points, second fewest). Good D makes every point count.

Forget the home court advantage. Brazenly led by former Knicks coach Pat Riley, Miami isn't daunted by the Madison Square Garden mystique, while New York seems to enjoy the taunts and jeers of the denizens of AmericanAirlines Arena. In their playoff series the last three seasons—all of which went the distance—the Knicks were 4-3 at home and 5-5 in Miami.

Other series are somniferous. Leading 3-1 in their respective series through Sunday, the Lakers (page 60) and the Trail Blazers didn't look seriously threatened. Only the suspension of Indiana's Reggie Miller (page 64) gave the outclassed 76ers reason to hope. By contrast, after four games Heat- Knicks remained utterly unpredictable.

All of which makes Miami-New York the best rivalry in the NBA. While the Western Conference may offer superior teams, no other duel, either there or in the East, compares with the bad blood and intrigue served up by Miami-New York. From the benches-emptying Brown-Ward fracas of three years ago to New York coach Jeff Van Gundy's terrierlike attack on Alonzo Mourning's ankle a year later, postseason flare-ups between the teams have become tradition—and translate into great theater. Add wrinkles such as teacher versus student ( Riley and Van Gundy), brother versus brother ( Miami assistant Stan Van Gundy is Jeff's sibling) and friend versus friend ( Patrick Ewing versus pal Mourning), and you have the NBA's most complete, and compelling matchup.

Besides, is there a surer thing than a Heat- Knicks under?

LINDROS AND PHILLY
Taking a Flyer

Given the mutual distaste that defines Eric Lindros's relationship with Flyers management (SI, April 10), and considering that the concussion-prone Lindros may be just one more hard knock from early retirement, you wouldn't expect Philadelphia to renew his $8.5 million contract. But general manager Bobby Clarke intends to do exactly that.

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