They are games Miami Heat forward LeBron James always looks forward to.
Clashes against the New York Knicks are among his favorite days on the NBA calendar. This time around, when the teams meet Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena, should provide extra excitement. Playing their rival is exactly what the Heat need after a four-game stretch in which they struggled to find motivation.
"It'll be a good game for us," guard Dwyane Wade said. "It's a game that we all look forward to. Obviously, we want to play better, and it's a good time for it [facing the Knicks]."
The Atlantic Division-leading Knicks are a legitimate threat, something the Heat failed to see the past four games. After facing the Cleveland Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving, they played the San Antonio Spurs minus Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Next up were the Brooklyn Nets without Brook Lopez and the Washington Wizards, who entered with just one victory. A lack of motivation led to the Heat struggling in the first half of each game, especially on the defensive end.
The Heat pulled out wins in the first three games but were unable to overcome their bad habits in a surprising loss to the Wizards.
"You move on," Wade said. "You learn from it, but you don't become a good team by holding onto certain losses or certain wins."
There is no better opponent to help forget about Tuesday's loss than the Knicks. New York handed the Heat their worst loss of the season Nov. 2 at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks made 19 of 36 from 3-point range.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it's about more than facing the Knicks. It's also about eliminating some bad habits.
"We had a good game the other night against Brooklyn, but consistency is something that we're looking to prove and that has nothing to do with who we're playing," Spoelstra said. "It's our mind-set, our focus, our disposition, all those things that we bring to a game and also sustain during the course of a game."
For Spoelstra, it's just a matter of the team addressing the issues and applying it to games. The same problems have loomed most of the season.
"We know exactly what it is," Spoelstra said. "We have to just do it, respect the game, respect what we're capable of doing. Anybody can beat anybody in this league on any night. It doesn't matter what your resume is. These are long games and you have to compete and work the game."
Among the problems for the Heat are the slow starts and inconsistent defensive play. They played poorly in the first half against the Cavs, Spurs and Nets before rallying to victory. The goal now is to find a way to transfer their second-half intensity to the beginning of games.
"We came out and didn't have a sense of urgency from the start," James said. "It's not nothing new to us. We understand every team that we play is going to play their best. They're going to make shots that they don't make against other teams. … [The Wizards] had 31 assists, that's a season-high for them. We understand teams are going to play better when they play against us. They're up for it, and we have to be up for teams as well."
James said it begins with defense. The Heat have shown at times they are one of the league's best defensive teams, but have yet to string together a stretch of strong performances. The Wizards scored a season-high 60 points in the first half.
"We've got to care about the defensive end like we do when we play some of the better teams," James said. "Until we do that, we're going to allow teams to get comfortable and allow teams to feel like they can beat us."
Click here to see the latest mugshots in Palm Beach County
Click here to see the latest mugshots in St. Lucie County.
Get the latest updates, photos and video from the devastation in Moore, Okla. Also, see how to help.
Latest Sports Headlines
LeBron James led all scorers with 36 points, but his night will be remembered by the two passes where he tried to find Ray Allen and got denied by West's hands both times.