Rapid Reaction: Heat 106, Knicks 98

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WHAT IT MEANS: The Knicks bounced back from an awful start to keep things competitive against the Heat, but ultimately came up short against LeBron James & Co. in a 106-98 loss. If playing against the Heat and James, who famously spurned the Knicks as a free agent last summer, is a measuring stick, this game at least showed the Knicks are improving. Miami manhandled the Knicks earlier this month at the Garden as James (27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) notched a triple-double. James played well again, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, but the Knicks kept in the game after falling behind by as many as 22 in a woeful first half.

"We did not start the game with intensity. We finished the game [with intensity], which made a difference," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters in Miami after the game.

Miami has now won 15 of 16 since opening the season 9-8. The Knicks (18-13) have won 15 of 20 after starting 3-8.

TURNING POINT: The Knicks showed resiliency, and it looked like they had the chance to pull off an improbable comeback when Danilo Gallinari snuck free from Mario Chalmers’ attempt to box him out and scored on a putback, pulling the Knicks to within eight at 88-80 with 6:40 to play. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout, and Dwyane Wade came out and hit a jumper to bring the lead to 10. Chalmers hit a short jumper after a Wilson Chandler miss and the lead was back up to 12 with 5:40 left. The Knicks hung tough and pulled within three when Raymond Felton hit a technical free-throw with 2:02 left to play. But Wade came out on the next possession and hit a 3-pointer from the left wing. Surprisingly, Wade fouled Landry Fields on a 3-point attempt, giving the Knicks rookie a chance to cut the lead to three. Fields hit just one of three to cut it to five and the Heat closed the game out from there. It’s hard not to think things may have been different if the Knicks could have gotten a few stops after the Spoelstra timeout.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Wade finished with 40 points, nine rebounds and two assists, giving the Knicks fits all night with hustle play after hustle play. Wade’s nine boards were a big reason why the Heat were able to outrebound the Knicks, 50-32.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES: There were six technical fouls called in this game -- three on the Heat and three on the Knicks. The first was on Amare Stoudemire, who argued with officials after he felt he was fouled by Joel Anthony on a second-quarter drive. They then hit Shawne Williams with a technical for his demonstrative display on the bench after he felt Stoudemire was fouled on a drive later in the quarter. Refs also hit Wade with a "T" when he barked at them after what he thought was a foul on a 3-point attempt shortly before halftime. Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskus was also whistled for a technical early in the third quarter for chirping at the officials after he was called for a foul on Stoudemire. D'Antoni earned a technical for arguing after Toney Douglas lost the ball out of bounds with a little more than nine minutes to play in the fourth.

D’Antoni told reporters after the game that he deserved that technical and "probably a couple others." He laughed off the tech, reasoning that "it was Christmas time" and his fines would be going to his "favorite charity" -- the league office. Players and coaches are fined $2,000 for each of their first five technical fouls and $3,000 for the next five.

Spoelstra was whistled for a technical foul with 2:02 to go after a Stoudemire putback. The subsequent Felton free-throw pulled the Knicks within three.

Stoudemire’s technical continues a troubling trend for the Knicks' big man as it was his ninth of the season. NBA rules stipulate that a player is suspended for one game after 16 technicals.

"We just have the competitive nature to want to win," Stoudemire (30 points, seven rebounds) said when asked about the outpouring of techs. "When you’re playing against a top team like that you want to play with that type of emotion."

TOUGH OPENING 20: The Heat used a run of 10-0 and another of 19-2 to build a 22-point lead in the game’s first 20 minutes.

On the Knicks' early struggles, D’Antoni said, "It was like trying to hit a fastball at 95 -- we adjusted."

The Knicks went on a 9-0 run before halftime to cut the lead to 13 at the half and cut the Heat lead to as close as six midway through the third, but were hurt badly by a silly foul on Ronny Turiaf with 32 seconds to play in the third. The Knicks' reserve center hit James Jones -- who was scoreless at the time -- on a 3-point attempt. Jones made all three free throws to build the Heat lead to 17 with 0:32 to play in the quarter.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Knicks (18-13) finish up a quick two-game road trip to Florida on Thursday night against Orlando. Can they bounce back and finish up 2010 on a positive note? That will depend largely on their ability to contain Dwight Howard. Not long ago, the Orlando big man and Eddy Curry used to go toe-to-toe in a battle of up-and-coming centers in the Eastern Conference. That was before Curry ballooned to well more than 300 pounds, essentially eating his way out of the Knicks' rotation. On Thursday, the Knicks will depend on Stoudemire and Turiaf to contain Howard, who entered play on Tuesday averaging 21.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. The Magic have won four in a row. The Knicks return home on Sunday to face Donnie Walsh’s old Pacers club.