by Brett Weisband | @weisband

Knicks (13-22) 102, Heat (27-9)  92

Three wins in a row isn’t a winning streak, according to Charles and Kenny, but the Knicks have strung together a some strong play in the early days of 2014. New York took advantage of surprisingly sloppy play by the Heat to grab a big win over the defending champs. Carmelo Anthony rebounded quickly from a tough start shooting the ball to finish with 29 points on 12-24 shooting, 8 boards and 5 assists.

The Knicks came out of halftime hot after a tightly contested first two quarters. Iman Shumpert was on fire from behind the arc, hitting three triples in the third period in support of Melo. Later in the period, fans were treated to a Bargs outburst, as Andrea Bargnani scored 5 points in the final 2:33 of the third and then hit a bucket less than 30 seconds into the fourth. Bargnani finished 9-13 from the field and netted 19 points.

The Knicks moved the ball extremely well, especially in the second half, finishing the game with 25 assists. They closed the game on with an 8-14 shooting spree from three after starting off 1-10 from beyond the arc. Raymond Felton (13 points, 14 assists) was the source and beneficiary of a lot of those looks, nailing a three and another long jumper to help close out the game. The Knicks also got one of the best games of the season from Amar’e Stoudemire, who put up 14 and 11. 

The most sensational story coming from the New York side was J.R. Smith’s playing time, of which he got none. After Smith’s wide array of misdoings off the court and poor play on it, his shoelace hijinks were apparently the last straw for coach Mike Woodson, who handed the swingman a DNP-CD. Tim Hardaway, Jr. got the bulk of Smith’s minutes and proved why he earned them with a monster put-back dunk to end the third and put the Knicks up by six. 

The Heat’s defense, known for it’s aggression, was passive and did plenty of standing around, allowing the Knicks to shoot 54 percent. The offense was just as stagnant, possibly due to the absences of shooters Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier. LeBron scored 32 on a ridiculous 12-17 shooting performance, including a handful of highlight plays. Dwyane Wade scored 23 on 11-15 shooting, but was 0-6 from the free throw line. Norris Cole scored 12, all of them in the first half, and no other Heat player made it to double figures. Miami plays the second of a back-to-back Friday in Brooklyn.

Nuggets (18-17) 101, Thunder (27-9) 88

It took the banning of junk food and the benching of a veteran or two, but the Nuggets finally look like they’re getting it together under first-year coach Brian Shaw. Denver withstood a monster first half by Kevin Durant, who finished with 30 points, to roll to a win at home. They were led by Randy Foye, who has been hot over the last few games. Foye hit 6-9 threes on his way to 24 points, a new season high. He’s averaging 18.5 per game over the past four and has shown some real confidence in his stroke. 

Durant looked like he was ready to put the Thunder on his back early on. He scored 24 points in the first two quarters, getting to the line 12 times. He wasn’t getting much support, though. No other Thunder player hit double digits in the half, and at one point early in the third Durant had half of the team’s points. It certainly doesn’t help when no one can hit a jump shot; the Thunder missed their first 10 tries from long range before Durant and Reggie Jackson (13 points) hit back-to-back triples midway through the third. They ended up being outscored 42-18 from long range, as they allowed Denver to hit 14-31 threes. 

The Nuggets are starting to look like a very streaky team. Coming off their eight-game losing streak, they’ve now won four in a row. Ty Lawson controlled the pace for Denver (read: fast) to the tune of 16 points and 14 assists, and Evan Fournier came off the bench to drop in 19 points. Kenneth Faried showed some improved work on the glass, setting a season high with 14 boards to go with 9 points. Shaw’s shortened rotation seems to be helping the still-young Nuggets, as they’ve scored 119.5 points per game since Andre Miller’s sideline blowup and subsequent vacation from the team.