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Friday, January 31, 2014
Saturday is a Heat check for NYK

By Ian Begley

To Carmelo Anthony, Saturday's showdown with the Heat is just another game.

One of 82 over a long, grueling regular season.

"Whether it's now or later, we have to play them," Anthony said.

But we all know there's a little more to it than that.

It's a Saturday night game at Madison Square Garden in front of a national television audience. It's the day before the first Super Bowl in the New York City area and the defending champs are in town.

So you can be sure that the Knicks -- to a man -- know that this is more than just your average regular-season game in late January.

They're just not going to say it.

"Every game for us is important right now," Tyson Chandler added. "We're trying to get back in the race."

And that's part of what makes Saturday's matchup with Miami a big one for the Knicks. A win would keep them a 1/2 game behind Charotte for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

More importantly, though, the game will tell us a little more about a Knicks team that's been all over the map this season.

New York started the season at 3-13 and stumbled to 9-21 by the end of December, leading to daily speculation about Mike Woodson's job security.

Owner James Dolan issued Woodson a vote of confidence toward the end of the month and told the players there would be no trades.

New York then won six of seven to start the calendar year, but washed that away with a five-game losing streak.

The Knicks seem to be back on the upswing again. They've won four in a row at home heading into their showdown with the Heat.

"We're feeling comfortable on our home floor. Early in the season it wasn't quite like that," Chandler said. "Things are starting to turn for us. We're feeling good, the locker room's feeling good, and I feel like it's all up from there."

That feeling may be a false sense of hope, though. The Knicks' last four wins have come against teams that are a combined 53 games under .500.

So are Carmelo & Co. beating up on bad teams or playing better basketball?

"These are the same teams that beat us earlier in the season, so competition is pretty good," Chandler noted. "Every game is important for us right now, regardless of who it is."

And he's right. At 19-27, the Knicks need to win games no matter who's on the other end of the floor.

But having LeBron James and his buddies in town Saturday will serve as a Heat check of sorts for New York.

The last time Miami invaded Madison Square Garden, the Knicks walked off the floor with a win thanks to 29 points, eight rebounds and five assists from Anthony.

Since then, the Heat have gone 5-4, New York 6-5. The big difference, of course is that Miami (32-13) is fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the Knicks are fighting for the final playoff spot.

"We're just trying to keep it going," Carmelo said.

To do that, they need to beat Miami on Saturday night.

National audience, day before the Super Bowl, defending champs in town.

It's a big game, no matter what the Knicks say.

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.