(SportsNetwork.com) - While the records may not indicate it, Thursday night's battle between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden should be a marquee matchup.
The Heat are back near their usual perch atop the basketball world, but the Knicks' struggles this season have been well documented.
The latest problem for the Knicks involves J.R. Smith and it might have been one of his worst transgressions. The NBA fined Smith $50,000 on Wednesday for "instances of unsportsmanlike conduct," stemming from two incidents where Smith tried untying an opponent's shoelaces. After the first, Smith was warned by the league, but he did it again, and is $50,000 poorer.
His coach is no longer amused.
"I'm not happy about this because he was warned, he comes back, and he makes the same mistake, and it's not right," head coach Mike Woodson told ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "It's just got to stop. I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it's got to stop."
On the court, Smith hasn't been anywhere near as good as last season when he won the Sixth Man of the Year award. He is averaging 11.3 ppg and shooting 34.8 percent from the field.
Despite Smith's antics, the Knicks have been playing well of late. They've won two in a row and three of four, but are just 1-4 in their last five at MSG. For the season, the Knicks are a disappointing 5-12 at home.
On Tuesday, New York took care of its business at home with an 89-85 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Carmelo Anthony poured in a game-high 34 points and Andrea Bargnani registered a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Raymond Felton scored 12 points for New York. Tyson Chandler missed the game with an upper respiratory infection and is listed as questionable.
The Knicks are 14 1/2 games behind the Heat in the Eastern Conference. Last season, these teams finished Nos. 1 and 2, and the Knicks beat the Heat three times in the regular season, including both trips to Miami.
The Heat have been very strong of late, winning three straight, five of six and 11 of 13. They've won three consecutive road games and that will help as they embark on a six-game odyssey with visits to New York, Brooklyn, Washington, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Atlanta.
"It felt like we just got home," said LeBron James, referring to the team's recent four-game trip out west. "We have to refocus on what the road is all about.
"The Knicks are playing much better than they were. It's the Mecca of basketball. It's always great to be there."
On Tuesday, the Heat overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half, thanks to James, and bested the New Orleans Pelicans, 107-88, in South Beach.
James scored 19 in the third quarter alone and finished with 32 points.
"I was able to get into a good rhythm and just try to keep it going and regain some momentum," James said of his third-quarter performance.
Dwyane Wade added 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Miami, which outscored the Pelicans 64-39 in the final 24 minutes after trailing by six at halftime. Chris Andersen added 15 points off the bench on 7-of-7 shooting.
The Heat were without starters Mario Chalmers (Achilles) and Shane Battier (quad). Both players are considered day-to-day.
While the Knicks won three of four last season, the Heat are 11-5 in the last 16 meetings between the teams. Miami has won five of its last seven in Madison Square Garden.