MIAMI -- Nearly an hour after the Miami Heat had taken a second early-season beating from the New York Knicks, LeBron James walked into an empty locker room with his bare chest covered in sweat and his eyes wide open.
After playing 39 minutes and posting a near triple-double -- 31 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists -- in the Knicks' 112-92 win, James apparently worked off some frustration after consecutive losses and the Heat's second 20-point defeat to the Knicks in a little more than a month.
"I've got to be better, it's that simple," James said. "I'm here and I'm the last one to leave. ... They pretty much just kicked our ass in two games."
It was likely coincidental, but Dwyane Wade, who had a bad game with just 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting, was one of the first Heat players to leave the locker room. James' late-night workout called to mind Kobe Bryant's midnight shooting session two seasons ago at AmericanAirlines Arena. That night in March 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers star strode out to the main floor and shot for 45 minutes after a six-point loss to the Heat.
James, who has occasionally worked out after games but not usually after playing close to 40 minutes, did his work in private Thursday night. But it still felt like he was trying to send a public message, perhaps even to his teammates.
"We can't sweep this under the rug," James said. "We have to come together and have more of a sense of urgency. We're more reactive now than proactive."
It was a rather different sentiment than James exuded after the Heat loss Tuesday night to the lowly Washington Wizards. After the Heat finally suffered a defeat following a handful of near misses to sub-.500 teams over the past several weeks, James appeared to brush it off.
"This isn't a lesson for us; it's just a loss," James said just 48 hours before Thursday night's loss. "So we don't need a loss to teach us a lesson to do better."
James and the team had taken a similar attitude after losing to New York in November at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks won by 20 points. Then, the Heat gave the impression they were giving a collective shrug.
The Heat seemed to have targeted Thursday as a bit of a statement game. They spoke about wanting to rebound from the embarrassment against the Wizards, and four players who were question marks with minor injuries all played. They also made a significant adjustment to their defensive strategy, changing up their pick-and-roll coverage in an attempt to surprise the Knicks.
Meanwhile, shortly before tipoff the Knicks announced Carmelo Anthony wouldn't play with a finger injury. Yet, even playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Knicks exuded more interest and energy. They ripped the Heat's slow-rotating defense for 18 3-pointers and 90 points through the first three quarters.
The Knicks (14-4) now own the Eastern Conference's best record over the Heat (12-5).
"It's impossible to have that same fire and motivation and hunger [as last season]," said Chris Bosh, who had a miserable shooting night by missing nine of his first 10 shots.
"The hunger changes and we don't have the same motivation. We have to find different motivations."
After pretty much floating through the season's first 17 games, most of the Heat's victories were less than impressive, and the Knicks certainly seemed to have struck a previously untouched nerve. The Heat have talked about the challenges of repeating as champions, but now, six weeks into the season, are feeling the adversity that comes with it for the first time.
"For me, personally, I'm used to being gunned at no matter whether I've won a title or I didn't," James said. "My approach didn't change; my approach doesn't change."