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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 8:30 PM

When the Miami Heat take on the New York Knicks Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game on ABC, there will be a lot of talk about New York trying to make the playoffs in their race with Philadelphia and Milwaukee…and a lot of talk about how Miami is still a legitimate championship threat even if the team hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders lately.

But, what may not come up is that New York has been the BETTER team since Mike Woodson took over as head coach for the departed Mike Dantoni. Yes….the team that’s been down in the #8 spot for a few weeks has a better record since that time than the team sitting up in the #2 spot.

Records since March 14th:

New York 13-4

Miami 10-7

That’s the date the Knicks first took the floor under Woodson. They crushed Portland, and kept right on winning games. It’s easy to forget that New York had dropped way below .500 when Dantoni was let go. The parts weren’t meshing well together. The team wasn’t hustling on defense (Chandler was, and Lin was, but the TEAM as a whole wasn’t). And the season was on the verge of total collapse.

Who’s been playing better ball since then than the Knicks? Very few teams are even in the discussion.

And, let’s not forget that much of that hot run was played without Amare Stoudemire…who’s overrated in terms of overall impact but an important scoring threat at all times…and Jeremy Lin. Nobody was expecting “Linsanity” to continue unabated. But, New York is a better team with him than without him because he can go longer than Baron Davis right now and do more damage.

Yes, New York is 13-4 under Woodson despite dealing with injuries!

Miami is 10-7 during that same timespan, and they’ve mostly been healthy. Some believe the Heat are just holding back because there’s no reason to dominate March and April when the playoffs matter most. But, some see this decline as a sign of fatigue. The team puts too much of a burden on their biggest stars. This year’s lockout schedule is so demanding that nobody could stay fresh through the whole thing.

At least for now…Miami’s supporting cast doesn’t look any better than last year’s disappointing crew, even though upgrades had supposedly been made. The Knicks suffered injuries, but bench guys were able to step up and fill roles (particularly in terms of three-point shooting). Nobody’s stepping up for Miami.

Also of concern…Miami’s defense is having trouble tracking down all the shooting threats on opposing sides. Remember how Dallas beat them last year by spreading everyone out and finding exploitable openings? A few teams had success last year too by passing the ball around the arc until somebody got an open look. That’s happening again in recent days. Possible playoff opponents have noticed.

In fact, we should look at how these teams have done vs. playoff contenders before going any further. If New York is 13-4 against a very easy schedule, while Miami is 10-7 against a brutal schedule…than the record differential may be mostly an illusion. Always look at strength of schedules!

Versus Playoff Contenders

New York beat: Indiana (twice), Philadelphia, Milwaukee (twice), Orlando (twice), and Chicago

New York lost to: Atlanta, Indiana, Chicago

That’s 8-3 vs. playoff contenders for the Knicks. We’ll admit they’re lucky not to be 7-4 because the win last Sunday over Chicago was a minor miracle. They needed the Bulls to miss four late free throws AND have Carmelo nail a last second trey just to force overtime. But, even with that in the mix, that’s an impressive string of results vs. teams who have mostly been trying (the jury’s out on Orlando’s recent efforts).

Versus Playoff Contenders

Miami beat: Philadelphia (twice), Phoenix, Orlando, Dallas, Oklahoma City

Miami lost to: Chicago (twice), Indiana, Oklahoma City, Boston (twice), Memphis

That’s 6-7 vs. playoff contenders for the Heat. Now, Oklahoma City is in the mix twice, and the Knicks didn’t have to face the Thunder within this recent sampling. And, you could say that Chicago stole a win from Miami the other night thanks to a last second trey forcing overtime. Still, there’s no evidence that Miami is the superior team to New York even after you’ve made those adjustments. New York has the better record overall, the better record vs. quality opposition, and tinkering isn’t going to change any of that.

Does that mean New York is a LOCK Sunday afternoon at home against the Heat? We won’t go that far. There are a few indicators that point to Miami here.

*The Heat are in a gut check spot after the national TV loss to Chicago. The team is going to show up.

*Amare Stoudemire may return for the Knicks…and returns like that are often bad the first game because the player is rusty and the team’s rhythm gets messed up.

*New York was lucky to beat Chicago a week ago on this floor. Chicago was lucky to beat Miami the other night at home. That suggests it’s only bad luck that’s kept Miami from being a clear favorite here. Miami should have beaten the team on the road who should have beat the Knicks on the road.

On the other hand…New York’s offense does have the kind of three-point potential that gives Miami fits. They can pass the ball around…to multiple players who can hit from long range. Remember how many open looks Kevin Garnett was getting the other night just on medium or long two-point jumpers? The Knicks will be more spread out, and get more credit for their makes.

JIM HURLEY is definitely looking at this game very closely for a possible side or total release. He’s been in close contact with his New York sources all weekend, and is aware that Amare Stoudemire moved well in a 4-on-4 scrimmage game Saturday. If there’s an edge against the Vegas number here, NETWORK’S exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach is going to find it.

We’re also looking at Dallas-LA Lakers in game two of ABC’s doubleheader, as well as Houston-Denver in a big game out West Sunday evening (the first of two straight nights where those teams play each other).

In baseball, Angels-Yankees is still on the radar as that huge early season series closes out in prime time on ESPN. Our sources will be reporting from Tampa Bay-Boston (on TBS), NY Mets-Philadelphia, and Cincinnati-Washington as well.

Game day releases go up early on Sunday because of the early starts. You can purchase them right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. This is the ideal time to talk to a representative about long term packages. You get the most bang for your buck with those. We have great rates for the NBA playoffs and the full baseball season available right now.

Back with you Monday here in the NOTEBOOK to review key stats from Sunday’s showcase games. Midweek highlights in the bases include Texas-Boston, Philadelphia-San Francisco, and Cincinnati-St. Louis. The playoff chases in the NBA are already red hot and are only going to get more intense in these final days of the regular season.

Be sure you read the NOTEBOOK every day so you really know what’s going on. And, be sure you’re checking in daily with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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