By Ben Golliver
The Heat defeated the Knicks 99-93 on Sunday in New York, winning their franchise-record-tying 14th consecutive game and improving to 43-14. New York, which had routed Miami in the first two meetings this season, dropped to 35-21.
• There are six weeks left in the regular season, but Miami is ready for the playoffs now. The Heat haven't lost a game in more than a month; they have taken to amusing themselves with increasingly daring pregame dunking exhibitions; and they've received the type of play from the one-man terror that is LeBron James that is capable of toppling a vast majority of the league's teams single-handedly.
Include the Knicks in that category. In the first round of the 2012 playoffs, James averaged 27.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.2 steals in Miami's five-game triumph over New York. He bested those numbers on Sunday, finishing with 29 points (on 12-for-23 shooting), 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block in 43 minutes. He tallied 12 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, helping pull the Heat out of a 16-point deficit on an afternoon when their defense didn't look particularly sharp and their offense -- which got four three-pointers in four attempts from a red-hot Shane Battier and 20 points and eight assists from Dwyane Wade -- grinded a bit more than usual.
Back-to-back three-pointers from James to open the fourth quarter pulled Miami even at 79-79 and an emphatic dunk from him provided the game's final score. Leading 97-93 and playing defense with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Heat needed a stop to ensure that the Knicks couldn't finagle a way back into the game.
The stop was only half of James' plan, though, as he intercepted a telegraphed J.R. Smith pass and took off for the races while his opponents realized giving chase would be a fool's errand. James elevated from a couple of steps inside the free-throw line for his breakaway, one-handed slam. The rim shook, the door closed and the Knicks' confidence, borne of their head-to-head domination this season, evaporated. It was the same old insurmountable James.
"His motor is limitless," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game. Spoelstra added of James: "He was strong and was at his strongest after 40 minutes of basketball."
See James' game-sealing steal and dunk here:
• The bright spot for the Knicks was Jason Kidd's rediscovery of his shooting touch. The veteran point guard's accuracy has fallen precipitously from month to month this season, bottoming out at just 15.6 percent in February.
Kidd, moved to a reserve role by coach Mike Woodson, entered the game with both guns blazing, nailing four three-pointers in the first half. By comparison, he had made just four three-pointers combined in his last nine appearances, shooting 4-of-30 in 236 minutes. Getting that same production in an 11-minute stretch, coupled with Carmelo Anthony's hot start (he scored 17 of his 32 points in the first quarter), sparked the Knicks to a 59-45 halftime lead. Kidd and his teammates couldn't sustain the firepower in the second half, though: The 39-year-old had just two points and the Knicks shot just 2-for-12 from deep after halftime.
• The Heat received a scare with a little less than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, when James landed awkwardly after failing to complete a deep alley-oop from Wade.
After running hard to create a throw-ahead transition opportunity, James rose high, alongside Smith, but the pass was simply a good two feet too high. James landed in a herky-jerky fashion, with all of his force coming down on his left leg. He braced himself with both hands and then his right leg whipped around. While it seemed like his knees and ankles on both legs could have been impacted by the fall, James lay on the baseline favoring his left knee; he didn't leave the game but he could be seen massaging it as play continued. He initially looked to be a quarter-step slow on defense in the immediate aftermath of the play, but he recovered to put together his sensational close-out fourth quarter.
The Palm Beach Post reported that James will not undergo an MRI on his left knee, averting the Heat fan's worst nightmare. GALLERY: Longest winning streaks for each NBA franchise