1. Knicks Put Champs On Alert
MIAMI -- A second 20-point loss to the rival New York Knicks in as many meetings drove the Miami Heat to do some unusual things Thursday night as they tried to cope with yet another embarrassing performance this week.
It drove LeBron James into an extended postgame workout immediately after the Heat's 112-92 loss to a Knicks team that was missing Carmelo Anthony, who sat out Thursday with a lacerated finger on his left hand.
It drove Erik Spoelstra, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to acknowledge that their team must quickly and honestly address some disturbing flaws that have reared themselves in losses to the last-place Washington Wizards and Eastern Conference-leading Knicks in a span of 48 hours.
And it drove home a point coach Mike Woodson had tried to make even before his depleted but hot-shooting Knicks handed the Heat their first home loss of the season with a relentless barrage of 3-pointers.
These Knicks should be taken seriously this season, and they just might prove to be a bigger headache than the defending champion Heat anticipated in the East race.
"As we travel this journey, you know what I mean, this could be the team we've got to go through to get where we want to go," Woodson said. "We're playing the world champions.
"And I'll say it again: We're trying to get where they were a year ago. So you're going to have to play at a high level, and you can't come here making mistakes. You're going to have to play a perfect game to beat them."
The Knicks weren't exactly perfect. But they were plentiful, especially from 3-point range, where they torched the Heat for the second time this season, this time knocking down 18 of 44 attempts from beyond the arc. Counting the 104-84 victory against Miami on Nov. 2 in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks have made 37 shots from 3-point range.
If nothing else, the new-look Knicks are showing there's not much distance between these teams at this stage of the season. December statements don't necessarily resonate when the playoffs arrive in April, May and June.
Still, this has been a significant step that speaks volumes about the potential difference between the one-dimensional, dysfunctional Knicks who were routed in five games by the Heat in the first round of the playoffs last season, and a retooled squad stocked with savvy and productive veterans.
Last season's team didn't have Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, who combined to shoot 9-of-18 from 3-point range as two of the six Knicks who scored in double figures. New York was so lethal from deep that it absorbed an 0-for-6 effort from Rasheed Wallace from 3-point range and still managed to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc.
In the process, the Knicks shot down the notion that this team is totally reliant on Anthony, even if he is putting together one of the most impressive seasons of his career.
"We're a team. We got better from last year," Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. "It says a lot about this team when you have a guy the caliber of Carmelo Anthony out against the defending champions on the road, and we [still] win."
The game did more to validate the Knicks' early-season profile as a legitimate threat in the East than it did to reveal even more warts of a Heat team that knows it can't prove much to anyone at this stage of the season. But the message from Miami's locker room sounded a few alarms.
The Heat talked as if they're finally fed up with this cool act, as if they can't keep believing their top-ranked offense will continue to bail out a sloppy defense that ranks among the bottom third in the league in overall efficiency. That process starts with communication, James said.
"I think we communicate sometimes, and that's not a good thing," a seemingly agitated James said during easily his most animated session with reporters this season. "We have to communicate more and not have as many breakdowns."
Bosh believes the next step is accountability.
"It's impossible to have that same fire and hunger [as last season]," Bosh said. "We don't have the same motivation. Sometimes, you have to get knocked down a few times in order to get that back."
Bosh went on to say the Heat are firmly in the midst of the first rash of in-season controversy, adversity ...
"And any other 'versity' there is," he said. "It's here now. And we have to deal with it. We would be kidding ourselves if we thought it was just going to be a perfect season and we were going to coast through everything."
Playing with that coolness, that sense of entitlement, that belief that they could simply flip a switch and turn up the interest level and intensity when it really matters were characteristics this Heat team swore it would avoid.
Wade and Udonis Haslem were members of that 2005-06 Heat championship team that went through the early struggles, defensive lapses, overall lethargic play -- and injuries -- that eventually derailed the Heat's 2006-07 title-defense season.
Ironically, it was a stretch of lackluster performances and lopsided losses early that season that drove then-coach Pat Riley to notoriously launch his foot through a locker room door -- and blow out his knee and hip in the process.
"I remember when it happened -- it was right over there into that door," Haslem recalled Thursday while nodding to a door at the far corner that leads from the Heat's locker room to the coaching suites. "And the next day, he had surgery."
Actually, it was about a month later when Riley finally stepped away from that defending champion team for several weeks in midseason to have surgery on his hip.
But that all made it a bit strange to see Riley lurking in the hallways outside the locker room after Thursday's loss.
Spoelstra can be fiery and demonstrative at times. But he's not anywhere near Riley's level when it comes to delivering calculated chaos. And that's what also will make this the most challenging season Spoelstra might ever endure.
"I've been through it twice now, and defending a championship is the hardest thing you'll have to do," Haslem said. "You have to be a little upset and a little embarrassed to get beat like this. We have to get back to the point where we feel that everybody hates us. Even though we're the champions -- people love us now -- we still have to create a scenario in our minds that people hate us."
Something Riley said six years ago early in that title defense rings true today for this current Heat team, albeit for different reasons.
"We have a championship team that is sideways right now, so this is going to be a great challenge," Riley said then. "Keep your notebooks open. We'll see how it plays out."
For now, the Heat can only give the Knicks credit.
"I was telling people the Knicks were going to be good ... and were going to challenge us," Bosh said of his preseason assessment. "Even New York fans didn't believe me."
Spoelstra was asked Thursday whether he's reached the point where patience is starting to be tested by frustration.
"It's getting there, yeah," he said.
In other words, he's not kicking, screaming mad.
Not yet, anyway.
Although his team has shown signs of losing some of its championship footing, Spoelstra's only option to guide the Heat out of this malaise is to keep his feet firmly grounded.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Raymond Felton. Two games after sustaining a left-hand contusion, Felton looked like his shooting paw had been fitted with the Infinity Gauntlet. He poured in 27 points (10-of-20 from the field, including 6-of-10 from deep) and seven dimes. Carmelo Anthony owes this guy a car.
LVP: Dwyane Wade. Most players would be escorted out of the arena before they could muster a minus-33. As has been the case lately, Wade (13 points on 3-of-13 shooting) seemed to rely on a periphery of way too many midrange jumpers.
That was ... cartoonish: After sinking 19 of 36 from beyond the arc in their opening-night Miami thrashing, the Melo-less Knicks set South Beach on fire to the tune of 18-of-44 shooting on 3-pointers -- eight of which came during a key third-quarter blitz.
Recap | Box score
MVP: O.J. Mayo. He was in Phoenix over the summer during his free-agency tour. On Thursday night, he made sure to remind the Suns' front office what the team could have had at shooting guard. The Mavericks' big offseason acquisition finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. Mayo also hit the game-winning jumper with 34 seconds to go as Dallas snapped its three-game road losing streak.
LVP: Michael Beasley. Before Thursday night's game, Alvin Gentry mentioned the team might "tweak" its lineup in the coming days -- a move that more than likely would send Beasley to the bench. If the Suns' contest against the Mavericks was in fact his final audition as a starter, Beasley did little to gain his coach's trust with yet another uninspiring performance. He finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and did not play after the 7:24 mark of the third quarter.
That was ... encouraging: Markieff Morris did his best to promote Zach Randolph's MVP candidacy in Phoenix's loss to Memphis on Tuesday night. But the second-year forward rebounded quite nicely -- both literally and figuratively -- in front of a national television audience against Dallas. Morris recorded his first double-double of the season (15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds), thanks in large part to nine first-quarter rebounds.
3. Thursday's Best
New York Knicks: With Carmelo Anthony out of the lineup, the Knicks easily could have checked out against a Heat team out for revenge. Instead, Raymond Felton & Co. flipped the script and embarrassed Miami on its home court. Of course it's early, but the rest of the East needs to take notice.
4. Thursday's Worst
Dwyane Wade, Heat: Wade posted a career-low minus-33 plus-minus in Miami's loss to New York. Having gone into Thursday's game with 54 points over his previous two games, LeBron's sidekick could muster only 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"We're going to own this. We're not going to brush this off. And we're going to fix it."
-- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, on Miami's second straight loss and second 20-point defeat to the Knicks on Thursday night.
8. Mixed Reviews
9. Stat Check
The Knicks made 18 of 44 3-point field goals Thursday after going 13-for-41 on their long-range shots against Charlotte on Wednesday.
They are only the second team to attempt at least 40 3-point field goals in consecutive games, joining the Mavericks, who had three straight games with 40 or more attempts in March 1996 (44-42-49).
10. Dunk Of The Night