The New York Knicks and Miami Heat used to have one of the NBA's best rivalries. These days, they're just trying to stay out of the basement in the Eastern Conference.
Miami looks to avoid its first 13-game losing streak in 18 years on Saturday when its hosts the last-place New York Knicks.
The Heat (8-30) and Knicks met in four straight postseasons between 1997 and 2000, with each series going the maximum number of games. New York won three of those series, which were highlighted by physical play, low scores, ejections and a memorable brawl.
Now, Miami and New York have the two worst records in the Eastern Conference. They've met once this season, with the Heat winning a defensive struggle 75-72 on Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden.
The Heat have lost 12 straight for the first time since late 2001, and a loss to the Knicks (12-27) would tie the 1989-90 team for the second-longest losing streak in franchise history.
Miami appeared ready to snap the losing streak on Friday, when it led Portland by seven points after three quarters. However, the Heat got outscored 29-15 in the fourth and lost 98-91.
"That was the best third quarter we've played in probably two years around here,'' said Dwyane Wade, who scored 37 points. "We thought that was the turning point, but it wasn't.''
One bright spot for Miami has been the play of Shaquille O'Neal in his two games since returning from hip bursitis that forced him to sit out the team's previous eight contests. The veteran center is averaging 22.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in his return, an improvement over the career-low 14.5 points and 7.9 rebounds he'd been averaging prior to his injury.
"I'm glad to see the big fellow back, and us working the ball down to him,'' Wade said. "Hopefully we can get him even more involved, because he's looking pretty good.''
Scoring has been a problem for the Heat, who are averaging 93.2 points - fourth-worst in the NBA.
The Knicks' 94.6 average isn't much better. They'd been having an easier time earlier this week, averaging 101.7 points in beating Detroit, Washington and New Jersey for their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 3-10, 2007.
However, New York shot just 43.0 percent from the field in a 111-98 road loss to the Wizards on Friday.
"Some nights, you just run into a team that's playing a little better than you are,'' Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said, "and tonight the Wizards were playing better than we were.''
One player doing his best to put an end to the Knicks' offensive woes is Jamal Crawford. The guard is averaging 27.7 points over his past three games, including a season-high 35-point effort in New York's win against the Nets on Wednesday.
Crawford has averaged 25.4 points in five games against the Heat since the beginning of last season, including a career-high 52 in a 116-96 win last Jan. 26.
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