NEW YORK—After the 102-92 Miami Heat loss, after the Madison Square Garden patrons cheered proudly for a rare time this season, and after the locker rooms emptied each team into a chilly Thursday night, the outsized significance of a single regular-season loss was made clear by an observer's attempt to downplay it.
Everyone CHILL its JAN 9th #LetsGoHeat— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) January 10, 2014
That was from the Heat owner, tweeting from parts unknown, trying to calm the raging seas as if captaining one of his Carnival ships.
Arison hasn't felt compelled to send out such a soothing missive after watching the Heat cruise, and lose, against the Kings, or 76ers, or Pistons, or even the Celtics, all of which they've done this season.
But this is different, and it always has been. This is different, because of the snowbirds, business associates, basketball executives, media members and now families (Tim Hardaway Jr. dunking while Tim Hardaway Sr. watched) with ties to both markets.
This matchup still matters, even when it really shouldn't.
And that's why Arison, Pat Riley and the rest of the Heat should welcome a playoff encounter with one of the New York teams in April, preferably the Knicks. The Heat need a little New York in the first round, if for no other reason than to jar them from what figures to be a regular season-long slumber, with their standing in the conference (second at worst) already secured. It would at least feel like the playoffs had started, like the Heat need to start finding that switch they always eventually flip. It would at least qualify as a series the Heat would take somewhat seriously.
There would be no great chance of elimination against the Knicks or Nets, no more than against the Bobcats, Cavaliers, Wizards, Pistons or any of the other East squads that wouldn't sniff the postseason out West.
But there would be familiar rivals on the other side, players who still stir passion, even if in some cases (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire), they are barely shades of their former selves.
And there would be noise.
Blaring back-page headlines.
Buzzing throughout the boroughs.
Boasting after every basket, every board, every bounce.
And, certainly, naturally, after any unexpected New York win.
"Four outta five against Miami!" a couple of Knicks fans shouted, citing the recent regular season record as they stormed the stairwell. "Write that!"
That noise would be good for the Heat.
That noise would make them sharper, for the much more meaningful series (Indiana) still certain to come.
Of course, even in the anemic East, there's no guarantee that either the Nets or Knicks will get as high as the seventh seed, the most likely position from which one would face the Heat. Still, they have both looked better of late.
The Nets have won four straight entering Friday's matchup with Miami at the Barclays Center.
The Knicks had won two straight coming in, but that put them at just 12-22.
"They played great," LeBron James said.
Against Miami, with J.R. Smith tied to a seat, the Knicks played spirited ball on both ends. Carmelo Anthony didn't seem especially disturbed by James frequently covering him, posting 29 points, plus eight rebounds and five assists, and getting much of his work done in the natural offensive flow. More surprisingly, the Knicks were better than decent defensively—even while featuring the usually ambivalent duo of Amare (Stoudemire) and Andrea (Bargnani)—switching on pick-and-rolls and, as Chris Bosh put it, "junking it up."
Miami didn't help itself much. Erik Spoelstra acknowledged that the Heat got "stagnant" in the second half, when they scored just 44 points. And they were sloppy throughout, especially when they tried to be a bit too Showtime on the national TV stage.
James, as always, was excited to play in the place he freely calls the "Mecca," smiling frequently as he spoke for an unusually long stretch (12 minutes) prior to the game, and then slamming his way to 32 points during it. But he did commit too many turnovers on careless passes.
Bosh was an offensive no-show.
And Dwyane Wade missed all of his six free throws.
"They were in and out," said Wade, who did point out that he was 11-for-15 from the field, including three circus shots, while playing his fourth game in six nights. "I can't do nothing about that. You stay with your routine. I only missed six, I didn't miss 20. So it wasn't that damn bad."
The Heat only lost one game Thursday, not two or three or four or five.
But so much more is made of losses here.
So much more is made of everything.
More in the arena.
More in the streets.
More in the traditional media.
More on social media.
So much more that an owner, coming off two championships in two years, felt a need to respond to all the silly roster shakeup suggestions sent his way.
"It just seems like one of those nights," Bosh said of the loss. "And unfortunately, it was, you know, here."
Here, on a chilly night.
Here, where the Heat wouldn't be as likely to chill come April.