At the Miami Heat’s practice Monday, Udonis Haslem stressed the importance of a defensive mind-set from his team. He felt that if the Heat could pull together defensively from the beginning, the results would come.
“We all understand there’s work to be done,” he said.
The Heat’s 112-92 loss to the Knicks at AmericanAirlines Center might not represent the finished product, but even small steps are in the right direction. Early-game progress is exactly what the Heat has been after, though for a proud locker room, the loss to New York is hardly an encouragement.
For the first time since its overtime win over the Bucks, Miami had the lead after the first quarter in Thursday’s game against the Knicks.
Fittingly, Haslem opened the scoring with a dunk in the first 19 seconds, followed by a layup in his first start since Jun. 12.
“This is a highly motivated team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier in the day of his opponents.
“This is probably the game the fans have been hoping for.”
What better time for Haslem’s Heat to prove they don’t need heroic habits than against a Carmelo Anthony-less New York — that held the best record in the Eastern Conference entering Thursday’s game.
Haslem posted six points through the first quarter, with three rebounds, and Mike Miller’s buzzer-beating three-pointer from LeBron James gave the Heat the 25-23 lead it needed to prove that it was willing to fight early, even if it’s still down to the last second.
“We’re two good teams trying to make our mark in the Eastern Conference,” Dwyane Wade said.
That mentality carried over into the second quarter, where Haslem’s presence on the court added four points and two more rebounds in 22 minutes in the first Heat loss at home this season.
“[He was] finding his open spots at the rim,” Spoelstra said. “That’s probably the furthest silver lining [in the loss] that we can point to.”
In characteristic last-minute efforts to grab the lead, James’ shot with six-tenths of a second remaining in the half was ruled no good.
Perfectly matched through the first half, the Heat’s offense was suddenly eclipsed by New York three-pointers. The Knicks made 18 of 44 attempts from three-point range, while the Heat managed just 6 of 18.
The visible lapse in the Heat’s game was salvaged only by James’ 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Underneath names, numbers and strategy in the Knicks locker room, a small sign with an inspirational phrase hangs in royal blue and orange. The last words are “Play together, Have fun.’’
Without a leading force in Anthony, the Knicks pulled influence from both their starters and the bench in addition to keeping the Heat seeking answers. A group that plays together clearly asserts a bigger threat than one that is still working to find themselves on the same page of the script.
“We have to be honest with ourselves and really own it,’’ Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to overdramatize it.’’