Heat Check Gaming, Knicks Gaming

The first NBA 2K League Finals are this weekend. After 12 regular-season weeks, three tournament weeks and one playoff week, the field has been narrowed to two teams: Heat Check Gaming and Knicks Gaming. The ghosts of Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, Jeff Van Gundy, Pat Riley, P.J. Brown and Charlie Ward are about to resurface, virtually.
Ready to dive into the NBA 2K League, but missed the last four months? Here's a primer:
How Did We Get Here?
The NBA 2K League is a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive. For Season 1, 17 NBA teams bought in at a price of $750,000 each for three years. From January to March, the league featured a tryout process and a combine through the NBA 2K18 game. This culminated with 102 players qualifying for NBA 2K League roster spots -- six on each of the 17 teams. On April 4, the inaugural NBA 2K League Draft took place in Madison Square Garden. First-round picks were awarded a $35,000 salary with second to sixth-round picks getting $32,000.
The NBA 2K League season featured 12 regular-season weeks (14 games per team) and three tournaments. The tourneys, along with the playoffs, added $1 million in potential prize money. The playoffs -- featuring $600,000 of that prize money -- were set to feature the top eight teams by regular-season record. However, the third tournament of the season -- "The Ticket" -- provided one alternative route to the postseason. The winner of the tourney would receive an automatic bid to the NBA 2K League Playoffs even if the winning team finished the regular season outside the top eight. This possibility became reality, as Knicks Gaming won "The Ticket" as a No. 15 seed and finished the regular season at No. 14 in the league. When teams were re-seeded for the playoffs, Knicks Gaming was No. 8.
Heat Check Gaming: How Did They Get Here?

Heat Check Gaming entered the season with more hype than most teams. General manager/coach Famous Enough, 34, has been a mentor and content creator for the NBA 2K Pro-Am community, and he was expected to use his knowledge and respect to organize a heavyweight team. He drafted Hotshot, Majestic and 24k Dropoff, who immediately labeled themselves a "Big Three." However, Heat Check Gaming started off slow, going 3-4 in the regular season and failing to advance out of the group stage of "The Tipoff" Tournament or out of the first round of "The Turn."
Starting with a 26-point win over Jazz Gaming on June 29, Heat Check turned a corner. They would reel off five straight regular-season wins to get to 8-4 and clinch a playoff spot before losing twice on the last day of the regular season. The 8-6 record slotted Heat Check as the No. 6 seed for the playoffs.
Heat Check Gaming's success is directly related to a patch and archetype change that was introduced before the second win of Heat Check's streak. While Heat Check drafted Hotshot, a 25-year-old Miami native, No. 7 overall as a center, after the patch change, the Miami-area native was moved to small forward. This has allowed Heat Check to run a "five-out" offense, making Hotshot, as a "shot-creating slasher," essentially a point forward while the other four players spread out behind the 3-point line on the court. In wins three and four of Heat Check's five-game winning streak, Hotshot scored 54 and 51 points. Hotshot finished second in the NBA 2K League in scoring with 29.5 ppg and was an MVP finalist.

In the playoffs, Heat Check kept feeding Hotshot. He dropped 54 points again in Heat Check's quarterfinals win over Pistons GT, 85-67. Then, in a two-game sweep of 76ers GC in the semifinals, Hotshot scored 52 and 45 points, respectively. While some NBA 2K League fans and opposing players/coaches have criticized Heat Check's five-out style, it's set them an NBA 2K League Finals date.
Knicks Gaming: How Did They Get Here?

Knicks Gaming's route to the NBA 2K League Finals is a true New York rags-to-riches story. Knicks Gaming was down and out this season. Between "The Turn" and "The Ticket" Tournaments, Knicks gaming was 1-4, putting them in the No. 15 spot for "The Ticket," barely avoiding the play-in game. Going into the tournament, Knicks Gaming had a 3-7 total regular season record, meaning "The Ticket" would basically be do or die for the team's playoff chances.
And somehow, Knicks Gaming rose to the bright lights. The team upset three playoff-bound teams in Raptors Uprising GC, Wizards District Gaming and Cavs Legion to reach the Final against CLTX Gaming. In another New York-Boston battle, Knicks Gaming escaped for an 83-80 win, "The Ticket" title, $75,600 in prize money and a trip to the NBA 2K League Playoffs.
Knowing it would be locked into the No. 8 seed and that powerhouse Blazer5 Gaming would likely be at the No. 1 spot, the two teams unofficially had five weeks to study each other. In the playoff quarterfinals, Knicks Gaming enhanced its Cinderella reputation, upsetting 12-2 Blazer5, 82-78, in front of a raucous Friday night New York crowd. On Saturday afternoon, in a best-of-three semifinal with Cavs Legion, New York fumbled Game 1 before winning two straight to add to its never-say-die aura.
Like Heat Check Gaming, Knicks Gaming has seen its greatest success since the patch/archetype change. The team is 10-3 since the patch change, but 15-12 overall, including tournaments (for reference, Knicks Gaming is 5-9 in regular season play and 10-3 in tournament/playoffs play this season).

Although, Knicks Gaming has not relied on a five-out style for its success. A chunk of Knicks Gaming's rise can be credited to point guard Iamadamthe1st. At this time a year ago Adam Kudiemati was better known as "Kidd Kuda," a teenage YouTuber who had landed himself video spots with James Harden, Markelle Fultz and Rachel DeMita, among others. Playing under the new moniker Iamadamthe1st, he was drafted in the fourth round by Knicks Gaming. Even this week, his Knicks Gaming teammates referred to him as the worst point guard in the league at the start of the season, as many critics even felt Adam only made the NBA 2K League due to his marketability.

Iamadamthe1st, who turned 20 a month ago, has risen to a new level in the last few weeks, winning MVP of "The Ticket" Tournament and powering Knick Gaming to the Finals. According to 2K Analytics, Adam leads the league in 3-pointers made per game at 2.7, a surprising stat considering the league is full of "pure sharpshooter" archetypes. Adam has also become a lethal pick-and-roll pair with center Goofy757, Knicks Gaming's first-round pick at No. 9 overall. Goofy led the league in offensive rebounding at 4.3 per game, and he was third in total rebounding and sixth in points per game.
Along with Adam and Goofy, Knicks Gaming rolls deep with versatile small forward IdrisDaGoat, dead-eye shooting guard Yeynotgaming and lockdown defender NateKahl.
What Is On The Line?
Many of these individuals have been playing NBA 2K League for the better part of the Past decade, but never on a scale like this. The winning team Saturday walks out with $300,000. The losing team scores $100,000. Everyone is a monetary winner, but there is a glaring 3x difference up for play. Semifinalist teams received a $50,000 payout and quarterfinalists a $25,000 cut. With Knicks Gaming also collecting $75,600 in "The Ticket" and $12,600 in "The Turn," the team could add $388,400 in bonus money this year (before taxes).
Of course, pride is also on the line. The Knicks and Heat organizations have had a long-standing rivalry dating back to the days of Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning to the battles of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. With the Knicks being local, an orange and blue crowd can be expected in Queens, led by actor Jerry Ferrara who serves as head scout/creative consultant for the team.

The Bottom Line
This weekend is the culmination of the NBA's first dip into esports. The league faced criticism for a lack of viewers early for the season, teams' struggles to make a profit and gameplay being difficult to watch at times. But the NBA 2K League, led by managing director Brendan Donohue, has pushed on. Viewership has improved as the season has progressed, social media engagement has increased and more media outlets have picked up stories about the players. Fans continue to pack the studio in New York City and four more NBA franchises bought in for Season 2, meaning now 21 of the 30 NBA franchises are locked in.
The NBA 2K League found itself with a significant amount of parity in Year 1. Seeds No. 4-8 all went 8-6 during the regular season. The No. 4 team to the No. 12 team were only separated by two games at the end of the regular season.
How To Watch
So will it be Heat Check Gaming, the bad boys of the NBA 2K League, led by a super-scorer and a more than famous enough head coach? Or will it be Knicks Gaming, the underdog story that has played with a clear home-court advantage all season?

The NBA 2K League will broadcast the best-of-three finals starting at 4 p.m. ET on the NBA 2K League Twitch channel. Fans can also watch via the NBA 2K League app. The league is expected to provide more information on its Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.