MIAMI -- New York fans may no longer love him, but LeBron James still loves playing at Madison Square Garden.
James said yesterday he is pumped up to play his first playoff game at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, pumped up to be playing it for the Heat, which takes a 2-0 lead into Game 3 of its first-round series with the Knicks. Despite his ongoing love affair with the building where the Knicks play, James said that he never thinks what if, never wonders what it would have been like if he had signed with the Knicks in 2010 and played 41 regular-season games a year in the fabled New York arena.
"Nope. No," James said when asked if he ever thinks what if.
Among all active players, James has the highest regular-season scoring average at the Garden at 29.9. If that's not bad enough news for the injury-riddled Knicks as they try to win their first playoff game in more than a decade, then try this: The player with the second-highest regular-season scoring average at the Garden is James' teammate, Dwyane Wade, who has averaged 27.3.
"It's not a secret that besides AmericanAirlines Arena, it is my favorite place to play," Wade said. "I look forward to how this team is going to respond in a very hostile environment with the lights as bright as they can be. It's going to be a tough game."
The Heat refused to concede that it had any special edge in the series now that the Knicks are without three key players. The Knicks are without Jeremy Lin, who has been out since early April after undergoing knee surgery. They are without Iman Shumpert, who blew out his knee in Game 1 of this series. And they are without Amar'e Stoudemire, who lacerated his hand when he punched a fire extinguisher in the hallway of AmericanAirlines Arena after the Knicks' loss in Game 2.
Since Chris Bosh and James joined the Heat last season, the Heat is 2-1 at Madison Square Garden.
Wade said that the team's strategy will continue to do whatever is necessary to contain Carmelo Anthony, who has even more pressure on him with Stoudemire out.
"He's probably going to shoot close to 30-plus [shots] a game," Wade said. "We have to make sure all of them are tough, especially early on so he doesn't get into a rhythm. We just have to make it as tough as possible with different defenders throughout the game."