GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - Mike D’Antoni saw the way LeBron James tore apart the Cavaliers when faced with a hostile crowd in Cleveland and figures hate is wrong.
“I’m going to be nice, don’t worry,” the New York Knicks coach said Thursday.
The fans at Madison Square Garden probably won’t let that stop them from telling James how they feel about the star bypassing the Knicks for the Miami Heat.
The Heat are coming to New York on Friday, another huge game for the Knicks and their chance to show they have recovered just fine from a painful free agency snub.
They wanted James and Dwyane Wade, who wanted to play together, but just not in New York. They talked to Chris Bosh, too, but are certain they emerged with the best power forward available when they landed Amare Stoudemire. He has a franchise-record streak of nine straight 30-point games entering the game against the Heat.
The Garden will be buzzing, just as it always is when James comes to town. Only this time, it’s because the Knicks no longer have a team that will bow to the King.
“I figure as long we keep winning and keep having success, that’s what the fans want to see. That’s what is most important in New York,” Stoudemire said. “So LeBron right now is in Miami and we’re in New York. It’s going to be a battle tomorrow night.”
The Knicks’ 118-116 loss to Boston on Wednesday was perhaps the game of the season in the NBA so far, and it’s probably not even the most anticipated one of the week in New York.
The Heat and Knicks developed a bitter rivalry in the late 1990s. Miami scored perhaps the biggest victory when it signed the player New York spent two years positioning itself to sign.
A pair of trades early in the 2008-09 season cleared enough salary cap space to sign James when he became a free agent in July. The Cavaliers played in New York the following week after those trades and James was showered with huge ovations. He received them in every other Cleveland visit, along with some “MVP!” chants.
He won’t hear anything so kind on Friday night. Not that he cares.
“No one’s actually going to come up to me and try to hurt me,” James said. “I mean, I’ve been in Cleveland after I signed. No one’s actually come up to me and say anything to me. They may wait until I walk down the street and yell it after they’ve just walked past me. I’m not worried.”
James has always loved playing at Madison Square Garden, where he is the only visiting player besides Michael Jordan with multiple 50-point games. And he’d love to disappoint a raucous crowd the way he did this month by scoring 38 points in a rout of the Cavaliers.
“One of the best players in the world and he always rises up to the occasion,” D’Antoni said. “Whether we’re nice to him or not, it’s not going to matter. Playing in New York is special and he, Wade, Bosh, they’ll all be ready and it’s a big game again. We don’t have our streak going, but they have theirs going.”
Miami has won 10 in a row, just as Boston had going into Wednesday’s matchup. The Knicks, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped, are the first NBA team to play consecutive games against teams with double-digit winning streaks since the Clippers had a home-and-home against the Lakers on Jan. 4-5, 2000, according to STATS, LLC.
James and Wade have been sensational during Miami’s surge, and Bosh has been playing much better. He was widely considered No. 3 behind his new teammates on the list of available free agents, even though Stoudemire had better numbers playing for a Phoenix team that went to the Western Conference finals.
“I was a surprised by that. I’ve been in a winning situation my whole career and it’s been somewhat the opposite for Chris,” Stoudemire said. “So he’s playing well this year. He’s been playing well his whole career, we go back since high school and I don’t really compare myself to Chris at all.”
Few thought Wade would leave Miami for New York, but missing out on James seemed a huge blow for the Knicks. They weren’t interested in talking about it after “The Decision” or on Thursday. Some critics thought not getting James made the whole free agency plan a two-year waste.
Instead, they are 16-10, just 2 1/2 games behind the Heat for second place in the Eastern Conference. James said Stoudemire is probably the leading candidate to replace him as the league’s MVP.
“It’s always great to play in the Garden, especially with them being as good of a team as they are now,” Wade said. “A lot of props go to Amare for leading that team the way that he has and to the rest of the players for coming in and proving everyone wrong.”
Wade also has been a fan favorite at the Garden, but those days are gone. This won’t be quite like James’ return to Cleveland, but it’s not like trips to New York used to be, either.
“Hopefully that’s the way it’s always going to be now,” D’Antoni said. “Whoever comes in is going to be the guys that we hate and it doesn’t matter who it is.”
Notes: The Knicks said Wednesday’s game earned a 3.6 rating on MSG Network, the network’s highest since a 4.8 on Oct. 31, 2001, which was Michael Jordan’s first game as a player with the Washington Wizards.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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