NEW YORK Twenty-four hours after its first at-the-buzzer regular-season win in eight years, the Heat needed no late-game heroics on Wednesday night.
This one was settled much earlier, with Miami holding a double-digit lead for nearly all of the fourth quarter and coasting to a 105-88 victory against the woeful Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
And more good news for Miami: Indiana lost at Memphis, meaning the Heat moved up to seventh in the East, tied with the Pacers at 37-38 but owning the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series.
Miami also moved 1 1/2 games ahead of No. 9 Chicago but remained two games behind No. 5 Atlanta and No. 6 Milwaukee, which both won on Wednesday night.
What pleased the Heat most Wednesday was its defensive effort after a spotty first half.
“We weren’t communicating in the first half,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “First half was a little bit sluggish. I liked the activity in the second half. In a second night [of a back-to-back set], to be able to hold them under 40 percent from the field and under 90 points, that is the habit we are trying to build.”
The Heat’s backcourt was very good against a Knicks team playing without injured point guard Derrick Rose and suspended center Joakim Noah.
Point guard Goran Dragic shot just 6 for 17 but was highly impactful with 20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals.
“Dragic was able to get to the paint, find shooters and knock down shots,” Knicks guard Courtney Lee said.
With Dion Waiters missing his sixth game with an ankle injury, fill-in starter Josh Richardson had perhaps his best game since returning from a foot injury in mid-February, finishing with 17 points, five steals and a blocked shot.
“Josh struggled at the beginning of the year; we feel finally he’s healthy and getting back to himself,” Dragic said. “He’s a big part of this team.”
Richardson entered shooting the same percentage as last season on two-pointers (44) but much worse on threes (29.7 percent, down from 46.1).
But on Wednesday, he made 7 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 7 on threes.
“I’ve been getting my rhythm back,” Richardson said. “I was aggressive early.”
Spoelstra said his contribution extends beyond the boxscore.
“He is playing three positions for us offensively,” Spoelstra said. “On the other end, he is guarding four positions [including Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis]. He does it without looking at you crazy. He takes on the challenge.”
Meanwhile, forward James Johnson had another terrific night, with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and three steals.
Spoelstra credited Johnson’s “openness to push limits, to be the player he has always dreamed of being or even more.”
A night after hitting the game-winner at the buzzer in Detroit, Hassan Whiteside didn’t score until 2:45 remained in the first half on an alley-oop from Johnson, left with his fourth foul less than four minutes into the third quarter, returned to start the fourth and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Whiteside said the team spoke at halftime about the need to play better defense.
“You can talk about it, but when you add action to it, it makes a big difference,” he said. In the second half “we boxed out. We got rebounds. Cut off the ball, active hands, get deflections. I can go on and on.”
Afterward, Whiteside mentioned, unsolicited, the closeness of this team and how that intangible dynamic is one of many factors helping fuel this second-half turnaround.
“We were strangers; strangers became friends and friends became family,” he said.
Said Johnson: “We love each other to death.”
The Heat led by two points after one quarter, 49-41 at the half, pushed the margin to nine to start the fourth and led by as many as 23 in the final quarter.
“When we are playing hard, we are connected [and] it usually ends up working the way we want it to,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys understand what is at hand. I want our guys to embrace this challenge and enjoy it.”
Tyler Johnson added 12 points and Okaro White gave the Heat 20 good minutes, posting seven points and five rebounds.
It was a peculiar night for Knicks star Anthony, who took only two shots in a scoreless first half and finished with nine points on 4-for-12 shooting.
While the Heat shot 47.6 percent and was 12 for 25 on threes, the Knicks finished at just 37.1 percent from the field and were 5 for 25 on threes.
“They were more aggressive the whole game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Dragic spoke of how some teams assume a “schedule loss” on the second half of a back-to-back set.
“We don’t function like that,” he said.
New York plays at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday to complete the home-and home series, one of only four remaining home games for Miami.
Friday will be the Heat’s third attempt in the past two weeks to become the first team in NBA history to climb back to .500 after falling as many as 19 games under .500.
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