There's no better measuring stick in the NBA these days than the Heat.
Not only are they the defending champs, they were also riding a 13-game winning streak into Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. Beating the Wizards on the road and outlasting Stephen Curry at home is nice, but an afternoon with the Miami crew gives you a much better idea of where you stand against teams that actually matter.
The answer after a 99-93 loss in a game the Knicks once led by 16 points? Just like everything else this Knicks season, it depends on when you looked.
All looked well in the first half when the ball was zipping around the offensive end of the court and defenders were forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets. It was like November all over again and you began to wonder whether there was some kind of Heat-centric Kryptonite in the Knicks' uniforms.
In the second half, though, we got the Knicks of February. No one stepped up to help Carmelo Anthony on offense and the defense broke down bit by bit until the lead just melted away altogether to give the Heat their first win over the Knicks of the season.
The knowledge that the Knicks can play with the Heat (and anyone else) when they are right doesn't qualify as a lesson learned at this point in the season. We're still grasping for a way to get that team on the court on a much more regular basis while thinking about some other observations from Sunday.
LeBron James being a singularly brilliant basketball player doesn't qualify as new information either, but it is always impressive to get the kind of complete reminder he put on the table Sunday. We're less enamored with his ability to play after hurting his knee than some -- we're sure it hurt, but there's a boy who cried wolf aspect to LeBron's Daniel Day-Lewis-style selling of injuries that don't impact him -- but totally in awe of the talent he brings to the court.
Mike Woodson's biggest flaw remains his weakness when it comes to in-game adjustments. The Heat switched things up at halftime to take Anthony out of the game, succeeded at their task and then rode it to a win because the Knicks didn't switch things up in response.
Well, they did, but they didn't stick with a switch that was working. The Knicks were working the pick-and-roll quite well with Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, but Woodson sat Stoudemire for the final eight minutes in a misguided attempt to match the Heat's small lineup instead of continuing to impose the Knicks' desired pace in the game.
Jason Kidd ain't ready for the glue factory just yet. Four threes in the second quarter equaled his last month of production and he turned in an excellent game overall to raise hopes that Ponce de Leon got him to some kind of rejuvenating fountain.
The Knicks could have used some of those Kidd threes down the stretch, but the ball seemed to keep finding its way to J.R. Smith and Smith kept firing up shots that just would not go down. Throw in defensive lapses on James, the win-sealing pass that James stole for a dunk with 30 seconds to play and an extended quarrel with Twitter followers and it was not Smith's finest moment.