This was the right opponent at the right time.
There will be greater challenges for the Miami Heat in coming days -- in terms of emotion and quality of competition -- but what Erik Spoelstra's team needed Friday night at Madison Square Garden was a moment for optimism.
"We hear all the time that this league is a business," Spoelstra said when the draining day was over. "But that doesn't mean you don't go through emotions."
Amid concern about Chris Bosh's prognosis at South Miami Hospital, and still waiting to get trade-deadline centerpiece Goran Dragic in uniform, the Heat completed a sweep of the three-game season series against the Knicks in Dwyane Wade's return to the lineup.
"It was very uplifting to have him out there," Spoelstra said. "It was great to see him."
Wade, who had not played since Jan. 27, missing seven games with a strained right hamstring, closed with 12 points in 22 minutes, not needed in a fourth quarter that opened with the Heat up 87-68.
"It didn't feel bad at all," Wade said. "I'm thankful for my teammates playing so well tonight that I didn’t have to play much.
"It was very nice to become a cheerleader."
Wade opened 1 of 4 and closed 4 of 10 from the field, with four rebounds and one assist.
"Right now," Wade said, "our focus is to play good basketball, to get in the playoffs, whatever seed it is to get in the playoffs and just go from there."
It was a balanced effort for the Heat against a largely anonymous Knicks lineup, with eight of the nine available players scoring in double figures. The Heat previously had not had more than six players in double figures this season.
"It was a team effort," Spoelstra said.
Among the highlights for the Heat was rookie point guard Shabazz Napier making his first five shots in his return to a bench role amid Wade's return. Napier closed with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Also, Heat point guard Mario Chalmers closed with eight steals, the most by a Heat player this season and one sky of his franchise record.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside fell short of his seventh double-double in nine games, closing with 12 points and nine rebounds, needed for only 20 minutes amid a foul-plagued night. Along the way there was a 3-pointer from Heat forward Udonis Haslem.
"I've been working on that, can't rush the process," Haslem deadpanned. "I kind of saw it ahead of time, with the way 'Bazz drove to the basket."
Limited to nine available players, Spoelstra inserted Haslem into his starting lineup in place of Bosh, and cycled through a bench that was limited to James Ennis, Napier, Chris Andersen and Tyler Johnson. The Heat were shorthanded in the wake of the Thursday trade that sent out Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton for the Dragic brothers.
"What I told the group today is the same thing that I told them last week, right before the All-Star break, 'Don't feel sorry for yourselves,' " Spoelstra said of the whirlwind endured in recent days.
"Is it a perfect scenario? No. But this group has dealt with it all year. So the one thing it has developed is some competitive character, in terms of how to deal with adversity consistently throughout a season. And I commend our guys for not making excuses, not feeling sorry for themselves."
Spoelstra said he is hopeful of having both Goran Dragic and Zoran Dragic available for Saturday's game at AmericanAirlines Arena against the New Orleans Pelicans, a step up in competition from what the Knicks offered.
Having waved the white flag long ago, the Knicks were playing their first game since forward Carmelo Anthony underwent a season-ending procedure on his left knee, opening Friday night with rookie Cleanthony Early in his place.
In addition to being without Anthony, the Knicks were without Amare Stoudemire, who was waived and signed in Dallas during the All-Star break, and guard Pablo Prigioni, who was dealt Thursday to Houston for guard Alexey Shved, who had yet to arrive.
The Heat pushed to a 12-point lead in the second period and were up 58-48 at halftime, after trailing 26-25 at the end of the first quarter.
The Heat have now won six in a row from the Knicks, their third-longest active winning streak against an opponent. They also have won their last five visits to the Garden.
The Heat won the first meeting of the three-game season series 86-79 Nov. 30 at Madison Square Garden, with Wade scoring 27 points and Bosh 20. More recently, the Heat defeated the Knicks 109-95 Feb. 9 in the Knicks' lone visit of the season to AmericanAirlines Arena, with Bosh scoring 32 points.
With the victory, the Heat snapped a four-game road losing streak, improving to 14-15 on the road and 15-11 against teams with losing records.
At, 23-30, the Heat retained their spot in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.
"It could be a lot worse? Right?" Spoelstra said. "We are in the playoff race."
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