One of the NBA's marquee matchups takes shape from Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon when the Miami Heat put their 13-game winning streak up against the New York Knicks.
The defending champion Heat are tops in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks are in a virtual tie for second with the Indiana Pacers.
It has been the Knicks that have swept the season series with the Heat thus far, winning once in MSG and once in South Beach. New York creamed the Heat by 20 in the second game of the season, then, without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks bested the Heat by 10 in Miami on Dec. 6.
"It's going to be an unbelievable atmosphere on Sunday," LeBron James said after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. "We're a team that loves going against teams that's beat us before. They're a really good home team, so we look forward to the challenge."
The Heat haven't lost since Feb. 1 in Indiana. Their most recent, the 98-91 victory at home over Memphis on Friday, was impressive on a few levels.
First, the Grizzlies are the NBA's best defensive unit in terms of opponents' scoring. The Heat were held well below their average of 103.8 ppg and James scored well below his average.
James had 14 of his 18 points in the decisive fourth quarter. He still handed out 10 assist and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Heat to victory.
"When I don't make shots, I know I can do other things to help our team win," said James. "That never really bothered me throughout any of my bad shooting nights."
The Knicks come into Sunday's main-event matchup the winners of three straight. They bested the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors at home, then topped the Washington Wizards Friday night in D.C., 96-88.
The Knicks came into the fourth quarter down four points, but put the clamps on the Wizards in the final frame. They held Washington to 11 fourth-quarter points en route to victory.
"We just got a lot more aggressive with them," said Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. "We were smarter down the stretch, executed our defensive plan and forced some tough shots."
Anthony led the Knicks with 30 points, but only shot 10-for-24 from the field. Raymond Felton added 23, J.R. Smith netted 13 and Amare Stoudemire contributed 12. The bench tallied 34 points and head coach Mike Woodson made some changes.
First, Jason Kidd, who started 48 of 49 games, came off the bench. He played 28 minutes and was out there through most of the fourth quarter. Kidd only had four points on 2-for-6 shooting.
"The shots have no effect of what I do on the floor," said Kidd. "I didn't come into the league as a scorer and it doesn't look like I'll leave as a scorer."
Now, it's time to prepare for the Heat.
"It's a big game," said Felton, who had 27 points in the road victory in Miami. "If we win this game, it could mean a lot down the stretch. They're really going to come in here ready to play."
The Knicks have swept the season series to date, but the Heat had won three in a row prior to that in the regular season. The teams met in the first round of last season's NBA Playoffs and the Heat dispatched the Knicks in five games.