Like a baseball team in spring training, it appears the Heat will be playing with a split squad from here until the real season begins.
And, stunningly, that might not affect the team’s winning percentage that much.
On Sunday in San Antonio, the Heat defeated the best team in the Western Conference without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the lineup.
On Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat returned home from its five-game road trip and nearly knocked off the hottest team in the league, the Knicks, with those same players once again watching in street clothes.
The Knicks carried an eight-game winning streak into Miami and all the motivation in the world to beat the Heat.
After all, the Knicks are still battling for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which could mean the difference between finally winning a playoff series or extending that wretched 13-year postseason losing streak another season.
But, despite 50 points from Carmelo Anthony, it was closer than expected when the fourth quarter started. The Knicks defeated the Heat 102-90 but New York didn’t pull away until about four minutes remained in the game.
“Boy, he was a shot-maker tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Anthony, who finished 18 of 26 from the field and 7 of 10 from three-point range.
In an impressive display of individual skill, all of Anthony’s attempts came from outside the paint. As a team, the Knicks were 14 of 27 from three-point range.
“It might not be an opportune time to announce my candidacy for defensive player of the year,” joked Shane Battier, who, along with Udonis Haslem, was charged with guarding Anthony.
“I had the streamers and party favors ready to hand out to everybody but, as they say, timing is everything in life, so I’m going to shelve that campaign until next year.”
The loss ended the Heat’s home winning streak at 17 games. The Heat (58-16) already has clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Knicks (47-26) have won nine consecutive games and won their season series with the Heat 3-1.
“Our guys really competed,” Spoelstra said. “Probably ran out of a little steam there in the fourth quarter.”
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 23 points. He went 6 of 13 from the field and scored 17 points after halftime. Mike Miller, who started for Wade, had 18 points but didn’t score in the second half. “Would have liked to have had some in the second half,” Miller said.
Ray Allen had 16 points, and Norris Cole added 14. J.R. Smith had 14 points off the bench for the Knicks.
The Knicks took a six-point lead with 10 minutes to play after guard Raymond Felton drilled a 21-footer. The Heat answered Felton’s jump shot with an airball by Allen but, after the Knicks failed to take advantage of that rare anomaly, Bosh buried a three-pointer to cut New York’s lead to 84-81.
A pair of free throws by Bosh tied the score at 86 but the Knicks went ahead by four points after free throws from Felton and a hook shot by Kenyon Martin.
The Heat cut the Knicks lead to a single possession with under four minutes to play but a key turnover by Battier led to a five-point burst from Anthony, who went the first eight minutes of the final period without scoring.
On the turnover, Allen tripped over a cameraman seated just out of bounds at midcourt. The cameraman, who was wearing dark clothes and crouching, blended in with the color of the floor. Battier didn’t see Allen fall and tossed a pass out of bounds.
From there, the Knicks took over.
On New York’s subsequent possession following the turnover, Anthony found his form with a jump shot and then, following a steal by Jason Kidd against Bosh, Anthony stroked a three-pointer from the corner to give himself 47 points.
From there, a turnover by Cole and a blocked shot by Tyson Chandler on Bosh helped the Knicks put the game away. A three-pointer by Anthony gave him 50 points with seconds remaining in the game and the outcome decided.