MIAMI -- If the Heat don't care about this regular season, do we have to keep pretending we do?
All day Thursday, they made the proper comments about working more, playing harder and how having the New York Knicks in town for a nationally televised game was just the tonic to make them care.
"Big game," Dwyane Wade said.
"Games like this can be a springboard for the next couple of weeks," LeBron James said.
Then the ball went up and it might as well have been Tuesday in Washington for the effort the Heat gave. Can they tell us when they care again? Or, more to the point, show everyone?
The Knicks blew out the Heat in Madison Square Garden last month by 20 points. That was embarrassing. This was worse: The Knicks came into AmericanAirlines Arena and won without Carmelo Anthony, 112-92.
"Let's go New York!" Knicks fans chanted in the final minute.
So in the span of five days, New England fans took over Sun Life Stadium and Knicks fans took over AmericanAirlines Arena. You can't make this stuff up.
There are issues, real but exaggerated, with the Heat. Their diluted defense. Whether they need a big man. If Wade's lost a step (a Charles Barkley special).
But the primary issue on the first week of December, in the 17th game of the season, is whether they care. Everyone seems to realize that is the issue in Year Three of the Big Three. No one's made too much noise of the issues, either.
"There's some other noise going on the West Coast,'' Wade said of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yes, the Lakers have become the team of turmoil. That's part of it. But the other part is the Heat won a title last season. With a ring comes the benefit-of-the-doubt credibility.
Coach Erik Spoelstra talked with Heat President Pat Riley on Thursday about running a championship team through the ups and downs of an endless regular season. And the downs are obvious.
They've drifted through these first five weeks, winning against the likes of Cleveland and Denver when their final shots fall, losing even to league-worst Washington when they don't.
Nothing told you how little the Heat care on Thursday than when Knicks guard Ray Felton dribbled for a third-quarter lay-up through the Heat defense without anyone stepping in his way. Right this way. Table for two.
Defense is the staple of the franchise, the signature of Riley, the given during last year's championship run when they finished ranked fourth, giving up 92.5 points a game.
They entered Thursday ranked 21st in the league at 99.9 points a game.
Of course, the reward for all this disinterest is a 12-5 record entering Thursday. Best in the Southeast Division. Two wins off the Knicks for the Eastern Conference lead.
So does anyone think the Heat won't win the East? Their primary issue for repeating as champs isn't size or depth. It's health. And the players seem to think waltzing through the opening stanzas are the way to deal with that. Maybe they're right.
How they allow themselves to take beatings like Thursday's is a more philosophical question. The real coaching decision for Spoelstra probably won't come until March when they play a franchise-record 18 games in the month.
That's a staggering number. Consider they only played 13 in November. Will Spoelstra, more discreetly, pull a Gregg Popovich and sit his starters like a week ago against the Heat?
No one should over-value the regular season. The Heat learned that years ago when Riley's teams took division crowns nowhere (including a loss to the eighth-seeded Knicks).
Two years ago, Chicago and Boston dominated the Heat in the regular season. The Heat beat each in five games in the playoffs.
"We know we've got to pick it up,'' Wade said.
When they decide to start, let everyone know. We'll start paying attention again.