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Can Knicks play at Heat's level vs. Miami on Sunday?

LeBron James of the Heat controls the ball

LeBron James of the Heat controls the ball against Carmelo Anthony. (Nov. 2, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac


LeBron James and the Heat will visit the Garden Sunday, looking to show they're not the same team the Knicks beat by 20 points twice this season.

The Knicks aren't that same team either.

Since the teams last played in December, the Knicks have been mostly mediocre. James and the Heat have been nothing short of dominant.

The reigning league MVP and favorite to win the award again this season leads the defending champs into the Garden for a game that should have a playoff-type atmosphere. The Heat wants to extend its winning streak to 14 games and the Knicks want to prove they can compete with a championship-caliber team.

"It would just be a big game for us," Tyson Chandler said. "Ultimately, it's more of 'OK, we'll see where we're at heading into the playoffs.' See things that we've got to tweak, if anything. It's more for us than them. They've got the recipe, obviously. They're world champs, and that didn't happen by any fluke."

The Heat is proving it. Miami is 42-14, 61/2 games ahead of the Knicks (35-20). James, who has led the Heat to 18 wins in its last 20 games, is averaging 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists and is shooting 56.4 percent.

He's put up similar numbers against the Knicks -- 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. But the Knicks hammered Miami in the two games, drilling a total of 37 three-pointers.

When they met in Miami in December, Carmelo Anthony was sidelined because of a lacerated finger. The Knicks hit 18 threes that night and stunned the Heat, 112-92.

"They know that we got them here and embarrassed them at their house, so we expect them to come here fired up," Chandler said.

Since that night, the Knicks have gone 21-16 and Miami 30-9.

"They're the best team in the league based on their play," Mike Woodson said. "Like I always say, there's not a team that we can't beat, but we got to be committed."

But the Knicks haven't been as committed defensively and as consistent offensively.

They're not going to make 18 three-pointers every game. In fact, the Knicks made 18 only one other time this season -- the night they led Sacramento by 50. Overall, they're not moving the ball the way they did and they're relying too much on Anthony.

"Our offensive spacing is a little bit different than it was earlier in the year," Woodson said. "Just defensively, just being committed. We were committed all the way across the board."

Said Chandler, "I think we came out of training camp so focused defensively. It was great, the level that we were playing at, the communication. That's slacked off throughout the season. Whether it be from injuries or the course of the season, whatever it is, I don't know."

The Knicks have won three straight and are showing signs that it's coming back. But they haven't won a game against a legitimate contender since beating San Antonio on Jan. 3.

"We're playing some pretty good basketball," Woodson said. "Being the coach here, I want more. I watch enough tape to know that we're not at the level we were earlier in the year, and I'm trying to get us back to that level."

Notes & quotes: Woodson said the Knicks don't intend to release Rasheed Wallace, who is expected to miss eight weeks after foot surgery, because they hope he can return in the postseason. "The door is still open for Rasheed to come back and play," Woodson said. "He's just got to put in the time and rehab and put in the time on the floor, because he can help us in the long run." . . . Woodson plans to start the same as he did in Washington on Friday night, with Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Chandler, Anthony and James White . . . Marcus Camby, out since Jan. 10 because of a strained left plantar fascia, could be available Sunday.

New York Sports