Led by a suddenly solid defense, the Knicks look to continue their surprising December and win their seventh straight at Madison Square Garden on Friday against a Heat team that has been shaky on offense.
After losing 50 games in 2008-09, New York (11-17) appeared to be headed for another long season with a 115-93 loss at Miami on Oct. 28. The Heat (14-12) led by as much as 31 points, and Dwyane Wade(notes) scored 26 in limited minutes.
Things got considerably worse for the Knicks, who lost 14 of their first 17 games, but they’ve stormed back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
With Tuesday’s 88-81 victory over Chicago, New York improved to 8-3 this month, clinching the team’s first winning December since going 9-7 in 2004.
“I’ll take this as a Christmas gift,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The Knicks, playing a Christmas Day game for the first time since beating Toronto in 2001, will be wearing green jerseys for their league-high 45th appearance on the holiday.
They’ve won six straight home games after losing eight of their first nine. This is New York’s longest win streak at the Garden since reeling off seven in a row from Jan. 26-March 2, 2007.
D’Antoni is known for employing an up-tempo style of basketball, but it has been New York’s defense that has spurred this turnaround.
The Knicks are limiting opponents to 96.3 points per game in December after yielding an average of 109.2 in their first 17 contests. They’ve held each of their last eight opponents below 100 points, the first time they’ve accomplished that feat since doing it in nine straight from Nov. 4-20, 2005.
D’Antoni credits 6-foot-10 small forward Danilo Gallinari(notes), whose defense on the perimeter often provides tougher looks for opposing shooters. New York has held opponents to 25.5 percent from 3-point range in December.
“I think we have more of a confidence that we can stop them on the other end,” D’Antoni said. “Those are things I think we’re better at because of our length.”
New York’s revived defense could provide problems for a Miami team that has been hit-or-miss offensively over the past month.
Since Nov. 27, the Heat have played well on offense in five games, averaging 109.6 points on 52.7 percent shooting, but they’ve averaged 89.0 points and shot 42.1 percent in the other seven.
Miami is coming off its worst offensive performance of the season, finishing with season lows in field goal percentage (36.0) and points, but still beat Utah 80-70 on Wednesday.
“We needed it, a grind-out game where we didn’t shoot the ball well,” said Wade, who scored 29 points.
Beasley finished with a season-worst five points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Jazz after averaging 22.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting in his previous three contests.
Lee had 18 points and a career high-tying 21 rebounds Tuesday, and he’s averaging 20.5 points and 12.3 boards during the home winning streak.
The Knicks have lost three straight to the Heat, but have won four of the last five meetings in New York. Wade, who scored a career-best 55 points in a 122-105 win over the Knicks on April 12, has missed three of the last four games at MSG due to various injuries.