HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — A message has been sent and it’s time to accept that the New York Knicks are the best team in the Eastern Conference, for now at least.
Playing without Carmelo Anthony on Thursday, the Knicks absolutely trounced the Miami Heat, 112-92. It was the second 20-point win for New York over Miami and the champs’ first loss at home this season. The Knicks (14-4) now lead the Heat (12-5) by a game and a half in the standings.
The result was really a reflection of where both teams are at. The Knicks have it all together right now: talent, chemistry, hunger and leadership. And Tyson Chandler has seen this kind of mix before, as Ken Berger of CBS Sports writes…
“The Knicks are for real,” one rival executive texted after Thursday night’s evisceration.
His knees covered in compression wraps and feet soaking in an ice bucket, Chandler could not have agreed more. He’s been down this road before, and to him, the Knicks’ fast start has a familiar feel to it.
“Dallas all over again,” he said. “Me and the light-skinned brother over there talk about it all the time.”
The light-skinned brother, of course, was Jason Kidd, who wins wherever he goes. It was Kidd and Chandler who joined forces with Dirk Nowitzki and a cast of veterans, swaggering playmakers and fearless perimeter shooters to end Miami’s championship quest in this very building two years ago. James (who was brilliant Thursday night with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) and Dwyane Wade (who was not, with a 3-of-13 shooting night and a career-low plus-minus rating of minus-33) couldn’t be blamed if they were having flashbacks to the 2011 Finals.
“It really feels like that, with the depth, the chemistry, the veteran leadership, the shooters,” Chandler said. “And we have to really believe. The moment I signed [in Dallas], I promise you, I told my family, ‘We’re going to win a championship, and at minimum, we’re going to make it to the Western Conference finals.’ And I felt the same way once this group came together. With that team in Dallas, we started to believe as the season went along. The moment I walked in, I told all of them: ‘Prepare for a long season. We’re going all the way, and we have to have a mindset to do it, no matter what obstacles get in our way.’ And it’s the same thing with this team.”
For the Heat, you can’t just chalk up this loss (or the first one in New York) to the Knicks catching fire, because your defense has been bad all season. Really, the Heat were probably asking for this kind of drubbing with the way they’ve defended thus far.
Miami now ranks 23rd defensively, allowing 104.0 points per 100 possessions and clearly not bringing their best effort on that end of the floor. They may flip the switch at some point down the line, but they’re not helping themselves by developing bad habits and burying themselves in a hole.
Michael Wallace of ESPN has the story from the Heat side, where they’re clearly questioning themselves after two embarrassing losses in three days…
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.
The Heat homestand continues with five more games that should keep them on the Knicks’ heels in the standings. But the standings should be the least of their worries right now. They’ve got to clean up their defense, and they can’t wait until March or April to do it. The last thing they want is to play a playoff series that starts and (possibly) ends in Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks have a much tougher schedule ahead, including a return visit to Brooklyn, where they lost two weeks earlier. But with the way they looked in Miami on Thursday, they should be more than able to win any game they play.