The New York Knicks knows how difficult it is having to play a postseason game without its do-everything forward.
The Miami Heat don’t want to be reminded of what it’s like now.
Jimmy Butler’s status is uncertain for Miami. The Knicks aren’t sure yet about Julius Randle. That makes it hard to predict what will happen when the Heat try for a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.
Both players were listed as questionable for the game, as was Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, all because of ankle injuries.
The Heat and Knicks will be followed by Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami pulled out a 108-101 victory on Sunday even with Butler slowed down the stretch after spraining his right ankle with 5:05 to play. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday that the Heat might not have an update on his availability until shortly before the game at Madison Square Garden.
Butler is their most important player, scoring 56 and 42 points in the final two games of their first-round series when the Heat knocked off Milwaukee to become the sixth No. 8 to beat a No. 1 seed in NBA history.
The Heat ended up that low in the standings in part because of how often they were without a healthy lineup, so they are used to facing the unknown.
“Again, it’s not like we’re just doing this today,” Spoelstra said. “This has been six months of this kind of life that we’ve existed and then we still don’t know who will be available for them.”
The Knicks only watched film on Monday, so there was no chance for Randle, who sat out Game 1, to get on the practice court and test his sprained left ankle he reinjured in the Game 5 clincher against Cleveland. The All-Star forward was far from his best in that series after missing the final five games of the regular season with the initial injury, but the Knicks would take whatever they could get now.
“If he’s on the court, he’s going to be Julius Randle,” Knicks forward RJ Barrett said. “He’s an All-Star, so him being out there on the court does something for us, and whether he’s out there or not, we’ve got to try to figure it out, because we’re in it. We’re here, of course, we want him back, but we’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
That was the same message from the Heat, who got only one basket in the fourth quarter from Butler, the leading scorer in the first round of the playoffs with 37.6 points per game. They held up fine with a limited Butler in the game’s closing minutes, with veterans Kyle Lowry (nine points) and Bam Adebayo (eight) having big final quarters.
It was another reminder that the Heat, who were a game away from the NBA Finals last year, aren’t the typical No. 8 seed.
“We know what we’re all capable of,” guard Max Strus said. “We know what we all do and what we’re all good at, and we’ve been here before. Everybody’s been in these playoff moments.”
The No. 5-seeded Knicks responded to their loss in Game 2 to the Cavaliers by winning three straight to take the series, so they showed no concerns as they try to even this one.
“We’ve been doing this all year. You can’t be rattled after one game or whatever the case may be,” Barrett said. “You’ve got to be confident in your abilities and the team’s abilities and just, they got the best of us that game. That doesn’t mean that it’s over. They got the best of us one game. Same way even if we had won the first game, the series wouldn’t be over.”
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