The message from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra before Friday night's game was simple.
“I want our guys to have this type of ending to a season – where they're checking other games, still engaged, still want to play, still want to compete, still feel that we have something to play for, because we do,” Spoelstra said pregame. “This is probably the most competitive and compelling it's been on both sides in a long time. The last three spots for us are still up for grabs and who we'll play, that will probably be decided on the last day. It makes it fun. It makes guys still want to compete and treat these games as you should.”
Apparently, the Knicks were the only ones listening. Two nights after its biggest blowout win of the season in Atlanta, the sixth-seeded Heat shot 39.8 percent from the field and took another embarrassing loss on the chin at Madison Square Garden 122-98.
Goran Dragic led the Heat with 15 points.
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Behind a career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds from rookie second-round pick Damyean Dotson, New York (28-51) drilled 18 three-pointers and cruised to the win, becoming the fourth lottery-bound team to beat the Heat at least twice this season. The others: Brooklyn (three times), Sacramento and Orlando.
The Knicks, who handed Miami its worst loss of the season here 115-86 on Nov. 29, led by as many as 21 points in the first half before the Heat rallied to trim New York's lead at the break to 63-50. Miami cut the deficit to 69-59 with 9:56 left in the third quarter before New York pulled away.
The good news for the Heat (43-37) is it still controls its own destiny in the race for the sixth seed because it owns the tiebreakers with both division rival Washington (42-38) and Milwaukee (42-37). The Wizards lost at home Friday to the Hawks and remain a game back in the standings.
Milwaukee moved ahead of the Wizards and into seventh place in the East, a half-game behind Miami. The Bucks play at the Knicks Saturday.
The Heat, should it clinch the No. 3 seed in the East, would play the No. 3 seed. Friday night, the Sixers (49-30) moved into third in the East with its 13th straight victory over Cleveland (49-31). Philadelphia controls its destiny and secure the third seed by winning out.