It was the closest facsimile this season of that Heat team that ran off 27 wins in a row.
But unlike last season’s winning streak, the Heat needed no inspiring comeback or second-half shooting spree to knock off the Knicks on Saturday night — just a repurposed defense, a slimmed-down rotation and an attitude that has been missing for most of the first half of the season.
A few days after failing to match the motivation of one surging team, the Heat reigned in New York with a 106-91 victory at Madison Square Garden. The Heat (33-13) snapped the Knicks’ four-game winning streak.
After using as many as 11 players in his rotation earlier this season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra simplified things and went with something resembling that no-nonsense lineup that spun together so many consecutive victories last season. It was also the closest approximation to the 2013 championship rotation that the Heat has used this season. Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis and Greg Oden did not play.
“I was planning on going a little bit deeper into the rotation,” Spoelstra said. “I certainly want to interject Greg for sure, and I just couldn’t get to it. … I wouldn’t look too much into it. The rhythm and continuity was going well.”
A breakaway dunk by LeBron James with 4:49 left put the Heat ahead 94-81. James then swished a fadeaway 18-footer over a double team to give him 26 points. He followed up that impressive shot with another fadeaway, and basketball fans inside the storied arena in midtown Manhattan gasped in audible enjoyment at the displayed skill of the league’s four-time MVP.
But James was just getting started.
He stroked a turnaround 20-footer with the shot clock expiring at the two-minute mark to put the Heat over 100 points. The difficult field goal gave him his 30 points and ensured Miami a bounce-back victory following Wednesday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. James has now scored at least 30 points in three of his past four games, including two in a row. He had 34 points against the Thunder and Kevin Durant.
“We just executed, and when we do that we’re a very good team,” James said. “And we didn’t turn the ball over much in the second half, so that definitely helped.”
The Heat had 13 turnovers in the game but just five in the second half.
James was 13 of 22 from the field and had eight rebounds and seven assists. Dwyane Wade had his best game since returning from knee soreness. He finished with 22 points, going 10 of 15 from the field. He also had four rebounds and four assists. Chris Bosh had four points on 2-of-11 shooting in his worst shooting game in a month, but he had 10 rebounds.
A three-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. cut the Heat’s lead to 71-66 with 2:25 left in the third quarter. The Heat led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter. Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 26 points, banked in a running three-pointer to make it a one-possession game with less than two minutes remaining in the period.
Hardaway finished with 17 points after scoring 29 points, a career high, on Thursday against the Cavaliers. The son of the Heat legend, Hardaway has become a valuable rotation player for the Knicks in his rookie season. J.R. Smith had 20 points for New York, but Tyson Chandler was limited to eight points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Shane Battier delivered a strong first half, going 4 of 5 from the field. He made three three-pointers, all in the first quarter, and the third gave the Heat an early 24-20 lead. Battier finished with 16 points, a season high.
“I wasn’t planning on playing Shane the whole first quarter, but he was playing well and was in a rhythm on both ends of the court, so I just let him roll, and we just kind of missed out on our normal rotation,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat extended its lead in the first half to 14 points when James made a layup with 5:44 left in the second period. James led the Heat with 15 points in the first half.
It was his first action since rededicating himself to the season with a message on Twitter.
Following the Heat’s loss to the Thunder, James noted on his Twitter account that he worked out early before a practice because, “I have to improve! I have no other choice. I won’t settle.”
“I’m just trying to improve and seeing ways I can help this team win ballgames,” James said before playing the Knicks.