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Knicks, Heat set

LeBron James started thinking about what a playoff opener against the New York Knicks would mean a few days ago. Amare Stoudemire started talking about taking down the Miami Heat a few months ago.

Here they are.

One of the most hotly contested NBA postseason rivalries of a generation ago is about to be rekindled.

The second-seeded Heat open defense of their Eastern Conference championship — and look to take the first step toward grabbing a bigger prize — when they host Game 1 of the playoffs against the seventh-seeded Knicks on Saturday afternoon.

Miami went 3-0 against the Knicks this season, two of those wins coming before New York ended the regular season with 18 victories in 24 outings.

“We’re all looking forward to the challenge again,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday.

“Nothing is guaranteed. We understand that. But what can be guaranteed is our commitment to each other and to this journey.”

It’s the first time the Heat and Knicks play a postseason series since an epic run of four straight years of matchups from 1997 through 2000. All of them started with Game 1s in Miami. All of them went the distance. New York won the final three.

“It’s going to be a fun series,” said Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who’ll likely be matched up much of the time against James, a favorite to garner his third MVP award in four years. “It’s going to be a tough series. At this point, we’re just ready to play.”

It probably hasn’t been easy for either side to completely prepare for this series. For starters, the game will tip off about 36 hours after the Heat returned home from the regular-season finale in Washington.

Also, even the teams involved aren’t sure what to expect from themselves.

Stoudemire played in only four games over the final month of the season because of a back injury, and he and Anthony have looked far from in synch during their time on court together in the last week.

For Miami, Wade has been out with a dislocated left index finger, Heat backup center Ronny Turiaf — New York’s starter in last season’s playoffs — is coming back from a hamstring problem, and Chris Bosh missed the season’s final six games with his own hamstring troubles.

Same goes for James, who got the final two games off to rest a number of nagging issues.

“We all talked about it before, playing against each other in the playoffs,” Anthony said. “Right now, the time is now. I know I can’t wait. I’m pretty sure they feel the same way.”