One day after traveling to face one of the premier power forwards in the league, the Miami Heat tangle with another Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
On Tuesday, it was Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers who did the damage, scoring 38 points in a 108-97 victory over the Heat in a game that featured the first ejection of LeBron James’ storied career. It was also Dwyane Wade’s first game against his former team.
In its showdown with the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Miami must find a way to contain Kristaps Porzingis, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer.
Worse for the Heat, they probably will face not one but two of the Knicks’ imposing inside forces.
Enes Kanter is expected to return to the New York starting lineup after missing three games with lower back spasms. The Knicks went 0-3 without Kanter, who is averaging 13.6 points and 10.2 rebounds on the year.
Kanter was itching to play Monday in New York’s 103-91 home loss to Portland, but was held out by team doctors.
“I won’t be 100 percent Wednesday,” Kanter said after the loss to the Trail Blazers. “Again, I cannot — if they don’t give me the green light (I won’t play).”
With Kanter sidelined, reserve center Kyle O’Quinn moved into the lineup and performed admirably offensively and on the glass, averaging 10 points and 10.7 rebounds, but Kanter has developed a smooth rapport with Porzingis defensively this season and his presence was missed.
“If they would have given me the green light, I definitely would have played (on Monday),” Kanter said. “I practiced this morning but they said I wasn’t ready. It is tough sitting in the locker room.”
Miami, which won four of five before the big loss at Cleveland, knows what it’s like to be without its best inside defender, too. Hassan Whiteside, averaging 15.2 points and 12.6 rebounds, missed five games early in the season and the Heat went 2-3.
With Whiteside sidelined, Miami was forced to turn to Goran Dragic, as it has for much of the season, particularly lately. Dragic is averaging 19.2 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds, and had a run of three straight 20-point games snapped by the Cavaliers, who held him to seven points on 1-of-5 shooting. For his three-game run, Dragic was awarded Eastern Conference player of the week honors last week.
“It’s great to be recognized, to put a lot of hard work in,” Dragic told reporters in Cleveland. “This award is not only for me, it’s for the whole team, coaching staff, teammates that put me in the right spot so I can be at my best.”
The Knicks are getting improved play out of their backcourt as well. Tim Hardaway Jr. has averaged nearly 22 points per game in his last four contests, with two of his eight 20-point games for the season. Hardaway had a career-high 38 points in New York’s last win, a 108-100 victory over Toronto last Wednesday.