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Heat and Knicks renew rivalry in East quarters

Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade came up just short in their first season together by losing to Dallas in six games in the NBA Finals.

Again with high expectations, the Heat will have a second chance as the No. 2 seed when they take on Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and the rest of the New York Knicks in a classic rivalry that gets revisited starting Saturday on the shores of Biscayne Bay.

Chicago may be the top seed in the East but No. 2 Miami is the team everyone was trying to avoid. Unfortunately for the Knicks their final game of the regular season was against the woeful Charlotte Bobcats.

Despite resting Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis the Knicks locked up the No. 7 seed with a 104-84 win over the Bobcats, who lost their franchise- record 23rd straight game to end the season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

New York, meanwhile, won five of its last six games to finish 36-30 and will have to face the star-studded Heat in the first round. The Knicks were 0-3 against Miami in the regular season.

"We understand who we're playing," Stoudemire said.

Amar'e was, of course, speaking of James, the best basketball player on the planet, Dwyane Wade, who is not far behind, and to a lesser degree, Chris Bosh -- "Miami Thrice."

After falling apart in last year's NBA Finals against the Mavs, it's championship or bust this time around in South Beach and the Knicks, from the outside looking in at least, seem like nothing more than a speed bump for James and Company.

Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson, however, is playing the confidence card and thinks his club has the depth to make things difficult for Miami. New York was an impressive 18-6 under Woodson, who replaced Mike D'Antoni in mid-March.

"We will be tested but I like the way we battled for this last 24 games and now we have to turn it up more for the playoffs," Woodson told the New York Daily News. "I know my group can play with this team. We just have to put four solid quarters together. It takes four quarters to beat a team like that."

For what it's worth the Knicks seem to be buying in to Woodson's thinking and feel that all the injuries and turmoil they went through during the regular season has made them a battle-tested club, tailor-made for the postseason.

"I couldn't be happier. That's what we played for," Woodson said. "It was a great regular season and now it's playoff-basketball time. They will be ready. They're battle-tested, well-coached. It should be a good series."

Of course, that's before the first punch comes from James and D-Wade during Game 1 a hurdle that only grew when Chandler, the Knicks' defensive-minded center that won a championship as a member of the Mavericks last season came down with the flu. The big man will be a game time decision on Saturday.

For Miami, Wade, who is dealing with a dislocated left index finger, and Bosh, who missed the Heat's final six games with a strained left hamstring, are both ready to go.

The Knicks and Heat were once the game's biggest rivalry back in the late 1990s thanks to Pat Riley. Riley, the current Heat president, was the coach in New York from '91-95 and took the Knicks to the '94 NBA Finals. He resigned from New York via fax to move on to South Florida, creating quite a bit of acrimony with the New York faithful.

In '97, Riley's Heat defeated his old team in a physical seven-game series advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. However, the '98, '99 lockout-shortened, and 2000 playoffs would be disappointments for Miami as they lost to the arch-rival Knicks; the first two in the opening round and the latter in the second round.