With New York, there is energy. There are guys willing to step up with Carmelo Anthony out. There is defense in the paint. There are guys making the extra pass and raining down threes.
In Miami I expect Jimmy Carter to come out and give a speech about malaise. Especially if he is talking about defense.
You would think that a couple of nights after the lowly Washington Wizards put up 105 points on the Heat and embarrassed their defense, they would come out on national television in full peak Ray Lewis mode — fired up and seeming to be everywhere. Nope. Not even close.
The result was Raymond Felton carving up the Knicks defense. There was Steve Novak and J.R. Smith and every New Yorker in the building not named Rasheed draining threes (he was 0-for-6).
The result was a 112-92 Knicks drubbing of the Heat.
These teams have played twice this season, the Knicks have thumped them twice. Only a fool makes a post-season prediction based on a Dec. 6 game, but those results should make the Heat take notice. There is no coasting to a repeat, and if you don’t spend the regular season building good habits the bad habits will end your playoff run.
The Knicks, with the best offense in the NBA coming into the game, put up a ridiculously efficient 117.4 points per 100 possessions number in this game — six better than their average coming in. The Heat came in with the 23rd ranked defense in the league, and it showed. The Knicks made threes and some tough shots, but they also seemed to get uncontested looks a lot.
The Heat are in a malaise on defense — we’ve seen this unit play it well before — and until they snap out of it teams that are playing well like the Knicks will thump them. The fact is the Heat play a defensive system based on using their athleticism and pressure to force turnovers and tough shots — they attack and force the offense to react. Or they are supposed to, that’s what they did last year. This year they are reacting. And if you play an aggressive style half-speed you pay.
Felton made them pay. The Knicks point guard took on the burden of creating shots, running a lot of high pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, and the Heat couldn’t stop it. Felton slashed into the lane and got a lot of hockey assists as New York showed fantastic ball movement all night. Then Felton stepped back and hit 6-of-10 threes.
It was a barrage of threes in the third quarter — 8-of-12 in the first nine minutes of the half — that won the Knicks the game. That is when they pulled away. New York had six players in double figures. At the same time Tyson Chandler did his thing, shutting off drives and the Knicks owned the paint.
Miami had LeBron. He was monster — 31 points on 20 shots, 10 rebounds and 9 assists.
Heat players not named LeBron shot 37.5 percent. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were a combined 6-of-25.
LeBron took it on himself, getting in some late-game shooting and seeming to want to better himself after the Heat loss. That’s what leaders do. But this wasn’t on him.
The Knicks are for real. They are showing it. We can ask if they can sustain it and what happens when Amare Stoudemire returns, but don’t ask if they are legit.
The Heat will be legit, too. If they ever get around to it.