Jan 9, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball against Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the first quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat: Preview and Prediction

Tonight, on the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks will play host to LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the second time in just over three weeks.

Here are your pregame notes:

Knicks go for five in a row: For the Knicks, the month of January was quite a rollercoaster.

After winning six of seven to begin the new year, they lost five straight in the middle of the month and were severely outplayed in four of those losses.

But, since the 24th, New York has won four straight by an average margin of over 23 points per contest. And though today marks the beginning of a new month, the Knicks will look to further extend their winning streak and possibly pull to within a tie for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Matching up well with Miami?: The Heat might be the two-time defending NBA champions, but since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, LeBron James and company have lost four of their five meetings with the Knicks.

New York got the best of Miami earlier this month (102-92 on January 9) and took three out of four meetings a season ago, winning twice by 20 points and a third time by 10 points.

At this point, it’s fair to start wondering if the Knicks really do have a head-to-head advantage against the Heat, and a win for the home team on Saturday night would only verify that thinking.

Will Shump play?: After he suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter of the Knicks’ win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Iman Shumpert missed Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Before that DNP, the third-year guard from Georgia Tech was the only member of the Knicks to have appeared in each of the team’s first 45 games.

He is currently listed as day-to-day and will be a game-time decision for tonight’s tilt. If Shumpert–the team’s best perimeter defender–can’t go, the already-difficult task of guarding Dwyane Wade will become that much more daunting for the Knicks.

Beginning of a tough stretch: The Knicks ended January with six straight games against teams with losing records, but February will feature a much more difficult schedule.

Including tonight, New York plays Miami twice, Oklahoma City, Portland, Golden State, and a total of eight nationally-televised games this month. If the Knicks have plans to move up the standings, they will need a strong February, and that will likely mean beating some of the league’s elite teams.

Prediction: Miami Heat 106, New York Knicks 101

I hope I’m wrong, but I tend to believe that LeBron is going to really want this one tonight.

Though he won’t admit it, James has to be tired of hearing that Kevin Durant–the same Kevin Durant who struggled mightily in the 2013 NBA Playoffs–has suddenly surpassed him as the greatest player in the world, solely based on one month of January and Wednesday night’s Thunder win over the Heat.

After all, it’s LeBron who is the two-time defending NBA Finals MVP. It’s LeBron who has won four MVP’s in five years. And it was LeBron who beat Durant head-to-head in the 2012 NBA Finals.

So, tonight’s game–which will tip just 22 hours before Super Bowl XLVIII’s kickoff–provides a perfect opportunity for LeBron to send a message to the world that he is still–by far–the best the NBA has to offer. In front of a crowd that will surely be packed with high-profile celebrities, I expect that LeBron will put on his best Madison Square Garden performance to date.

For the sake of the Knicks, let’s just hope he doesn’t.

Tags: Carmelo Anthony LeBron James Miami Heat New York Knicks

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