Reeling Knicks face tall task in cooling off Heat

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For a brief time in December, it looked like the New York Knicks might be able to do their part to make a renewal of the franchise’s playoff rivalry with the Miami Heat a reality.

But another extended skid for the Knicks has all but ensured another campaign in which the Heat only visit New York in the regular season.

The reeling Knicks will host the Heat for the first time this season on Sunday afternoon, when the old Eastern Conference rivals face off at Madison Square Garden.

Both teams were off Saturday after losing in New York on Friday. The Knicks dropped a 123-111 decision to the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Heat were edged by the Brooklyn Nets, 117-113.

The loss was the fifth straight for the Knicks and continued undoing the good will and progress they’d built by winning six of 10 games from Dec. 11-Jan. 1. That was enough to get long-suffering fans to begin daydreaming of a run at one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2013. They haven’t moved beyond the second round since 2000, which was the fourth straight year in which New York and Miami bitterly battled each other in the playoffs.

But reality has returned for the Knicks, who lost their last three games by a combined 66 points.

New York, which went 0-4 on a Western Conference road trip prior to returning home Friday, has played its last two games without its leading scorers, Marcus Morris Sr. (neck) and Julius Randle (personal).

“Get guys back healthy, get back in the swing of things,” Knicks forward Taj Gibson said Friday night. “The road trip was tough. I’ve been telling guys these last couple of days to regroup. These games are going to happen through some parts of the season. Just got to weather the storm, especially with the number of guys we’ve got down.”

Despite the loss to the Nets, the Heat are positioned to make what used to be a familiar trip to the playoffs.

Miami, which has missed the postseason three times in five years since ending a streak of four straight NBA Finals appearances, enters Sunday second in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games all season and are likely to be doubly focused after a second-half collapse Friday. Miami fell to 10-10 on the road after squandering a 12-point halftime lead against the Nets.

“We got what we deserved,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “You just have to credit Brooklyn. We’re still searching for maturity on the road as a basketball team and we didn’t take a step forward in that department tonight. We’re much better than that.”

–Field Level Media

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