At the start of the season, the Miami Heat likely had Thursday night's game here against the Knicks circled. The Knicks entered the season looking to dethrone the Heat and there was every indication that this late February game could be a preview of a playoff matchup.
Instead, the Knicks come into AmericanAirlines Arena with just 21 wins, a little more than half as many as the 40-win Heat. The team is in a tailspin so shocking that several Heat players who are close to Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony said that they are worried about the toll that it may be taking on him.
"I don't worry about their franchise. I worry about Carmelo Anthony," LeBron James said Wednesday. "I always want him to win and succeed. Obviously, he's been playing great basketball. I don't like seeing him lose like they've been losing, but I don't really care about the franchise."
Dwyane Wade said the fact that Anthony is having a great season statistically in a contract year makes it even tougher to experience what he's going through on a losing team.
"I'm sure it's very tough," Wade said. "After every game he gets asked that question about free agency. I don't know the mind-set of a guy like that. I know he loves New York. I know he loves playing in that city and for that city. And he proves it every night he goes out there. I think that's all that matters."
Anthony is the NBA's second-leading scorer with an average of 28.2 points per game, behind the Thunder's Kevin Durant (31.6). James, who took a pay cut his first season to play in Miami along with Wade and Chris Bosh, can identify with the statement Anthony made at the All-Star Game, when he said he would give up salary to stay with the team.
"What I got out of it is he wants to win," James said. "Everyone says they want to win, but that's what it's about."
James can opt out of his contract this offseason. Unlike Anthony, he has shut down any public discussion of his situation, saying he only wants to concentrate on the season.
Wade said he never expected the Knicks to have the kind of season they're having.
"Just coming from where they were last year with wins and losses, you have to be surprised," he said. "They came in with high hopes and high expectations for themselves. You get in games and you have certain injuries that happen and certain shots like the other night go in for the other team [Dirk Nowitzki's game-winner Monday night for the Mavericks] and rim out for you. When things like that occur for you throughout the year, it starts weighing on you and starts weighing on your confidence as a team, your selflessness as a team."
There was at least one person at Heat practice not terribly worried about the toll the losing is taking on the Knicks' psyche. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the Knicks team he's expecting to see is the one that beat Miami, 102-92, in early January.
"We're not playing their record. We're playing the team that beat us," he said. "Carmelo is having a fantastic year. We know that all too well. He is one of the elite scorers of this generation, not just this year, this generation. He can put a great deal of pressure on your entire roster."