Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) goes for a loose...

Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) goes for a loose ball as Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Miami. Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

MIAMI — This is where it all started.

The Knicks were back to the scene of the climb Tuesday, back to the place where Jalen Brunson officially elevated himself from a very good player, in the eyes of many, to the type of cornerstone superstar the Knicks can build around.

The game against the Heat Tuesday night at the Kaseya Center marked the first time the Knicks had visited the arena since Game 6 of their second-round series 11 months ago. Though the Knicks lost to the Heat in six games, Brunson tore through Miami’s elite defense in the series, averaging 31.0 points despite facing constant double-teams and ball pressure from larger defenders.

Individual performances, of course, were not what Brunson was thinking of Tuesday as he and his teammates entered the game jockeying for playoff position while playing a longtime rival

“You have to turn the page,” Brunson said at the team’s morning shootaround. “Regardless of what happens, good or bad, you need to have a short-term memory. That’s how you’re successful. Regardless of what happens individually or teamwise, it’s a learning experience and you move on.”

The NBA has learned quite a bit about Brunson since the last time the Knicks played here. On Tuesday, his recent efforts were recognized as he was named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Month for games played in March.

Brunson has earned Player of the Week honors three times this season, but this is his first Player of the Month award. He was recognized for helping the beat-up Knicks hang on to a No. 4 seed in the East by averaging 28.8 points and 5.8 assists in 13 games in March. Those games also included a career-high 61 points in a loss to Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and a 30-point game in a 113-112 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“Brunson is having an MVP-type season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game when asked how his team planned to defend Brunson. “He’s at that level right now, you’re not taking things away from him at this point. We have to beat the Knicks.”

As San Antonio and Oklahoma City recently found out, you don’t have to contain Brunson in order to beat the Knicks. Brunson’s 61-point game against the Spurs on Friday wasn’t enough to stave off a big game by Wembanyama, who led them to a 130-126 win. Brunson and the Knicks were playing without starters Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle and OG Anunoby in the loss to Oklahoma City.

Robinson was back on the floor for Tuesday’s game, but the Knicks have to be concerned about how long Brunson can continue to carry the team without Anunoby and Randle.

One person who has never underestimated Brunson is Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who couldn’t say enough Tuesday about what he has done this past month.

“He’s having a phenomenal season,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not only his plays. It’s his leadership. It’s everything. He’s carrying a big load. They are loading up on him pretty good. He’s making the right plays. He’s bringing the best out of everybody. He does it consistently. He’s seen it all. He finds ways to get things done. He’s having a great season and he’s never satisfied.”

Thibodeau added that one of the things that makes Brunson so great is that he just keeps finding ways to get better.

“That’s been the mark of his career, from high school, to college, to the pros,” Thibodeau said. “Often times, he gets overlooked. You are making a big mistake because maybe he doesn’t look the part. But he is the part. And he plays his best in big moments and he’s driven beyond belief.”

Notes & quotes: One thing that could be hindering Randle’s return to the court is that the physical nature of his style of play means that his shoulder is going to take a beating. Randle, who dislocated his shoulder in a win over the Heat on Jan. 27 at Madison Square Garden, has yet to be cleared for contact. “The thing for him is he has to just keep working every day until he can get to the point where he feels confident he can take the contact that he’s accustomed to,” Thibodeau said before Tuesday’s game. “When you look at his game and the way he plays, you don’t want him to change his style of play. That’s important . . . You have to have a belief that it will turn, which I do. Maybe it’s tomorrow. Maybe it’s the day after. Just keep putting everything you have into each day.”

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