Rapid Reaction: Heat 106, Knicks 91

NEW YORK -- It’s one thing to beat up on some of the worst teams in the NBA. It’s quite another to take down the defending champs.

The Knicks learned that lesson on Saturday when they lost to the Miami Heat 106-91 in a sloppy, enervating performance.

New York had won four straight home games against teams that were a combined 53 games under .500 prior to Saturday’s matchup with the Heat. So the showdown against Miami was a litmus test of sorts to show where the Knicks are as a team.

The result showed that there is still is a wide gap between New York (19-28) and the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks’ defense fell apart in the fourth quarter, allowing the Heat to hit 11 of their first 14 shots to open up a 16-point lead.

Carmelo Anthony struggled on Saturday. He committed seven turnovers and finished 1-for-4 from beyond the arc. Counterpart Shane Battier had 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting (4-for-7 from 3) for Miami. The Heat were led by LeBron James, who had 30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals. Dwyane Wade added 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting.

New York fell to 7-17 against teams with a .500 record or better entering play this weekend.

The Knicks' 28 losses already match their total from last season, when they won the Atlantic Division title with a 54-win campaign.

King of New York: LeBron put on a show for the Garden faithful, coming up big for Miami midway through the fourth. With the Knicks down by 10 and the crowd into the game, James forced a turnover and finished with a dunk on the other end. Two possessions later, James drilled a fallaway jumper over two defenders to give Miami a 14-point lead. The Knicks didn’t help themselves by going scoreless over a 3:41 stretch in the fourth.

James entered play Saturday averaging 29.6 points per game in 17 career games at Madison Square Garden. That’s the third-highest scoring average in the current building behind Michael Jordan (31.8) and Kobe Bryant (30.7).

Rough start for Melo: Anthony struggled at the outset against Miami. He was 3-for-8 in the first half with three turnovers while being guarded by Battier. Anthony was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc and at one point missed all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Anthony’s highlight through three quarters came on defense, when he tackled James before James could get to the rim.

Wade-ing in the waters: Wade has been dogged by questions about his health all season, but he seemed to be in top form on Saturday night at the Garden. Wade’s offense ignited the Heat in the fourth quarter. The Knicks had cut the lead to four, but Wade made his first three shots of the quarter to keep Miami ahead. New York normally uses Iman Shumpert on Wade, but the third-year guard was unavailable due to a shoulder injury.

Thanks to Wade’s baskets and an 8-3 spurt fueled by three Norris Cole makes, Miami led by 11 with 5:44 to play.

Painting the town red: The Heat dominated the Knicks in the paint in the second half. They outscored New York 24-8 in the second half. They opened the half by outscoring New York 14-2 in the paint.

Stars out for Super Bowl eve: The first New York Super Bowl is on Sunday, so the stars were out in full force on Saturday night at the Knicks game. Among the luminaries on hand at the Garden were David Beckham, Macklemore, Ricky Gervais, Evander Holyfield and Hugh Jackman.

What’s next: The Knicks take on the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday.

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