MIAMI — Center Chris Bosh claimed few believed him when he said before the season the New York Knicks would challenge his Miami Heat.
That no doubt has changed.
“I was telling people the Knicks were going to be good. Even New York Knicks fans didn’t believe me,” Bosh said after New York won resoundingly 112-92 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the second 20-point win in as many games this season against the Heat. “I felt that they were going to be a very good team, and they were a challenge to us.”
Remember how the Eastern Conference was supposed to be a walk on the beach for the Heat, with their only real competition perhaps coming in the NBA Finals? Well, you might need to forget about that.
The Knicks (14-4) dissected the Heat (12-5) despite star forward Carmelo Anthony not playing due to a lacerated left finger. They’ve also been playing all season without star forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who was not around when New York crushed the Heat 104-84 on Nov. 2 at Madison Square Garden.
Some thought that might have been a fluke. After all, the Knicks were emotionally high just a few days after Hurricane Sandy had devastated the area.
It was no fluke.
“Hopefully, this win says that we’re really good,” Knicks guard J.R. Smith said.
Heat forward LeBron James didn’t disagree.
“New York is a real team,” James said of the Knicks, who moved 1 ½ games ahead Miami for the best record in the East.
Meanwhile, the guys wearing “Heat” across the front of their jerseys have looked lately like imposters as they defend their NBA title. Miami lost a second consecutive after having suffered an embarrassing 105-101 setback Tuesday at lowly Washington. Before that, the Heat had needed several last-ditch comebacks to beat lesser teams.
It’s hard to fault James for any of this happening. After having a triple-double against the Wizards, he nearly had another one Thursday, totaling 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. But he had no problem pointing the finger at himself.
After the game, James went to work out. He was dripping with sweat when he finally emerged to talk with reporters more than an hour following the final buzzer.
“I got to be better,” said James, whose Heat were at full strength with forward Shane Battier and point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole all having returned Thursday from injuries. “It’s that simple. So I’m here. I’m the last one to leave.”
While it’s very nice of James to take some blame, he’s obviously not the problem. The Heat got little from fellow stars Bosh and guard Dwyane Wade, the two combining to shoot 6-of-25 and score 25 points.
Miami’s defense continues to be shoddy. With Anthony out, the Knicks resorted to hoisting 3-pointers, and it worked. New York, which had entered the game averaging 11.8 3-pointers made per game and 28.8 attempted, shot 18-of-44 from beyond the arc for 40.9 percent as the Heat failed too often to close out on shooters.
Guard Raymond Felton did the most damage, going 6-of-10 on 3-pointers for 27 points. Reserve forward Steve Novak scored 18 points and was 4-of-9 from long range, including 3-of-5 in the second half when the Knicks blitzed the Heat 59-39 to pull away from a 53-53 halftime tie.
“Everyone on the team did something amazing,” Felton said. “We played a great game, minus our superstar (Anthony) on our team. It shows what type of team we have, and how good and together we are.”
New York hasn’t won a championship since 1973 and doesn’t have a playoff series win since 2000. But there was plenty of strutting by the Knicks after James said they “smashed” the Heat.
“It’s a big win,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. “Last year, things were very different. We got smacked around by them.”
New York lost seven of eight games to the Heat, including falling 4-1 in an East first-round series. But the Knicks now are hungry while some on the Heat admit they are less so.
“Yes, it’s impossible to have that same fire, that same hunger,” Bosh said about defending a title.
James denies there is any Miami malaise. But he says there is plenty that needs improvement.
“We got work to do,” James said. “We can’t sweep this under the rug… We haven’t played like we’re capable of playing.
“We’re more reactive right now than proactive, and we can’t have that since everybody makes shots against us. I swear I watched the Knicks (Wednesday) night against Charlotte and they missed a lot of shots.”
The Knicks did. They were a pedestrian 13-of-41 from behind the arc in the 100-98 win over the Bobcats, including Felton going 2-of-8.
But everything changed Thursday, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was not happy about it. Asked if he has now become angry, Spoelstra said, “I’m getting there.”
At least the Heat don’t run into New York again until March 3 at Madison Square Garden. Bosh no doubt wouldn’t mind if there are then less believers about his Knicks preseason prediction.