CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Knicks and Miami Heat will renew what once was a fiercely intense playoff rivalry starting tomorrow afternoon.
But this star-driven best-of-seven first-round series probably will be a little more high-scoring and less physical than those slugfests were for four straight years from 1997-2000.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh versus Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler should make for great ratings and an entertaining series. But it will be fun for the Knicks only if it ends the way their last three playoff battles with Miami did -- with them advancing.
"I like our chances against anyone," Stoudemire said after scoring 21 points in the Knicks' 104-84 win over Charlotte last night. "I feel like we're a well-equipped team to compete with anyone in the league. We feel like we've been playing well under coach [Mike] Woodson, so it's going to be a great battle."
The Knicks had the seventh seed and a meeting with No. 2 Miami wrapped up before their regular-season finale ended as the 76ers were trounced in Detroit. Philadelphia finished eighth and will play the top-seeded Bulls.
The defending Eastern Conference champion Heat had the NBA's fourth-best record this season (46-20) and beat the Knicks all three times they played. The Knicks hope to change that trend and end the franchise's playoff skid. They haven't won a playoff game since 2001 and haven't won a series since they beat the Heat in the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals.
"Getting that first win in the playoffs is the most important thing for us right now," Stoudemire said. "The Knicks fans have been starving for that first playoff win. Hopefully that's coming soon."
The Knicks finished 36-30 and were 18-6 after Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni. They believe that all the injuries and turmoil they went through during this lockout-condensed season have made them battle-tested and playoff-ready.
"We're an even better team than we were to start the season," Baron Davis said. "We have a camaraderie that's unbreakable. We want to put that to the test against the best teams in the league."
Stoudemire said the Knicks match up well with the Heat.
"We have incredible depth," he said. "We're a much better defensive team than we were before. We have so many threats offensively that match their offensive threats. It pretty much evens out as far as the starting lineup. But our second unit, I think, is a little bit stronger."
The Knicks played a skeleton crew against the Bobcats, who lost for the 23rd straight time and finished 7-59 for the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history (.106).
Woodson didn't want to sit his three veteran starters, but they went to him and said they wanted the game off, especially with the quick turnaround for the start of the playoffs. Woodson agreed.
As much as he puts winning first, he wants his key players as fresh as possible for the postseason. It's critical against the Heat.
"You're dealing with three All-Stars and a supporting cast, a team that was in the Finals last year that knows how to win and knows how to play playoff basketball," Woodson said. "Our team is going to be tested.
"We have some guys who have made the playoffs, but this crew hasn't been together that long, so we will be tested. But I like the way we battled these last 24 games. Now we have to turn it up even more as we step into the playoffs."