MIAMI — Everything seemed to favor the Heat.
Miami was at home, where it had set a franchise record with eight straight wins to start the season.
The Heat players were more rested, having spent Wednesday night sleeping in their own beds while the New York Knicks were playing a tough game in Charlotte and then flying early in the morning to get to Miami.
The Heat was, seemingly at least, more motivated, wanting to prove that a loss to the Knicks earlier in the season and a shocking defeat at the hands of dismal Washington on Tuesday were merely flukes.
And the Heat was healthier than the Knicks, who were missing leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, among others, from their lineup.
Despite all those factors, the Knicks pulled the upset with an emphatic 112-92 win on Thursday for their second 20-point victory over the Heat this season.
“They pretty much kicked our — in both games,” Heat star LeBron James said. “We already thought they were going to be a better team (than last season). We didn’t go into these two games doubting them or underestimating their ability.”
The questions remain: What do the Heat do from here? Are these surprising results just mere speed bumps on what is a long 82-game regular season?
Or are they indicative of the post-championship malaise that seems to infect some teams?
James let his actions speak for him late Thursday night, staying on the court after the game to get in some extra work. That’s after playing 39 minutes and carrying the Heat with a near triple-double: 31 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists.
“I have to do better,” said James, who had a game-high in all three categories and made just two turnovers while making 11 of 20 shots from the field.
James isn’t the problem — that’s obvious.
Dwyane Wade, held to 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting, had four turnovers and just one assist. He has been injury prone and inconsistent lately but is still capable of greatness.
Chris Bosh, held to 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting, has been generally solid this season.
You can blame the supporting cast, other than Ray Allen, but the biggest culprit is the defense.
A lot of defense is based on effort, and Heat fans — and maybe the players, too — expect that will intensify once the playoffs begin.
Bosh seemed to indicate as much in his postgame comments.
“It’s impossible to have the same hunger and fire as last season,” Bosh said. “The hunger changes, and we don’t have the same motivation. We have to find different motivations. The motivation is just trying to be the best. Sometimes you have to get knocked down a few times to get that back.”
Bosh said he doesn’t think his team is making that many mistakes. He credits the Knicks’ hot shooting, especially the 41 percent accuracy (18 of 44) on three-pointers.
Wade agreed. “If the Knicks shoot like that every night, they will be tough to beat.”
Then again, Bosh said the Heat’s effort has to intensify.
“Every game, I guess, has to be the playoffs for us because it is for other teams,” Bosh said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team found itself on the wrong side of a shootout. At issue, then, is whether the Heat needs to slow the pace a bit so that they don’t give up so many possessions.
Bosh said that could be a solution, but it’s odd to hear the talented Heat — with elite athletes who want to get in the open court so that they connect on lob passes and dunks — talking about slowing down.
But that’s what happens when a team goes through a losing streak, even one as minor as a two-game skid.
Spoelstra said he was not going to brush off these losses. He wants to “own” the problems and fix them. But he also said he doesn’t want to overdramatize them, either.
It’s still early December in a long NBA season.
James said the communication on defense needs to change from a sometimes thing to an all-the-time habit.
Still, there is no need to panic. Barring serious injuries to their stars, there is every expectation that the Heat will be a high seed once the playoffs start.
“We would be kidding ourselves if we thought it was going to be a perfect season and we would just coast through everything,” Bosh said. “We’re in a challenging spot right now. Throughout the course of a season, (these spots) come multiple times.”