New York Post

A new cast, but Heat are hotter team

- George Willis

BEFORE Friday night’s game at the Garden, Erik Spoelstra talked about his Heat needing to develop more toughness. Derek Fisher, meanwhile, said his Knicks needed more discipline. One team got the message. The other didn’t.

By the time the horn ended a 9778 road victory for the Heat, there wasn’t much doubt which was the tougher and more discipline­d team. With the Knicks’ frontline tandem of Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis in foul trouble early in the second half and Carmelo Anthony scoreless after the first quarter, the Heat took advantage like a predator attacking its prey.

A game in which the Heat led 5453 when Porzingis went to the bench with 8:11 left in the third quarter turned into a relatively easy victory as Miami beat the Knicks for the second time in five days. The Knicks (89) lost their third straight game and suddenly look like a team desperatel­y searching to regain a positive vibe after Anthony scored 11 points in the first quarter and none the rest of the way.

“We fell apart in the second half,” said Anthony, who was 0for8 over the final three quarters after shooting 4for5 in the opening 12 minutes.

Apparently, the Heat got the message hammered home by Spoelstra, who demanded his team grower thicker skin after 10481 loss at Detroit on Wednesday.

“You have to have a tough mindset not only physically, but also mentally to put yourself in position to win,” Spoelstra had said. His team responded with a marvelous second half in which they outscored the Knicks 4729.

The Knicks could use some of the toughness the Heat (105) displayed in outrebound­ing the home team 4239 and limiting the Knicks to 37.6 percent shooting. They also need more of the discipline Fisher was talking about. Repeatedly caught out of position, Lopez and Porzingis each had four fouls each before the third quarter had reached its halfway point. Because size matters, the Knicks were doomed.

Anthony tried to carry his team, but “couldn’t find it,” he said of his miserable secondhalf shooting. The Heat, meanwhile, pushed the ball and attacked the basket, applying constant pressure against the Knicks’ defense. The visitors built a 7463 lead at the end of the third quarter and a 9272 advantage with six minutes left in the game.

The Knicks offense was a mess with no fluidity or spacing. Discipline was lost.

“As the game got on we got stagnant and we tried to force the action as the defense ramped up,” Fisher said.

It wasn’t what Fisher had hoped for after a seeing a fourgame win ning streak end with road losses at Miami and Orlando.

“We have to be a very discipline­d team,” he said before the game, only to watch his team stage a meltdown in the second half. “When you have a little bit of success sometimes that leads you to believe you have it all figured out. The reality is that we’re still developing and learning and becoming the best we can be. We have to be very, very discipline­d as a group and that got away from us the last couple of nights.”

It got away from them Friday night, too. Spoelstra had targeted Porzingis before the game after watching the rookie score 20 points in the Heat’s 9578 win over the Knicks on Monday night in Miami.

“He’s an impact player right now,” Spoelstra said.

Porzingis (11 points and eight rebounds) offered little impact Friday.

“We weren’t connected, we couldn’t find a rhythm and we couldn’t make shots,” Porzingis said, stating the obvious.

LeBron James has taken his talents back to Cleveland, but the Knicks haven’t gotten much closer to overtaking the Heat, who have beaten them eight straight times. Miami is still the tougher and smarter team.

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