NEW YORK -- The tabloids provided the hype, featuring fight photos from last year's volatile first-round playoff series. The network provided the exposure, with NBC televising the contest nationally.
In a game whose sloppy play was indicative of the opening weekend of the season throughout the league, Miami held off a late New York rally for an 83-79 win at Madison Square Garden.
The game had no drama, no flailing elbows, no heated words. If there were any lingering ill feelings from last year's opening-round playoff series, during which Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning squared off, they remained bottled.
There was an overabundance of poorly played, hard-to-watch basketball. Mourning scored 16 points but missed 14 of 21 shots. Tim Hardaway misfired on 11 of his 15 attempts.
On the Knicks' side, Latrell Sprewell's Garden debut crashed with a resounding thud as the recently acquired small forward missed his first seven shots on the way to a 2-for-12 afternoon. As a team, the Knicks missed 12 of 22 free throws, a clear sign that the abbreviated training camp was not nearly enough time to work out the kinks. The Knicks, considered a strong Eastern Conference contender, are 0-2.
"I can't remember the last time we were 0-2," said Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who had 24 points and 17 rebounds. "We're disappointed in the way that we are starting. But we still believe in this team, and we still feel that we'll be there in the end."
If the Knicks are there at the end, it will be by playing a different style of basketball than has defined the team in recent years. The old Knicks, with John Starks and Charles Oakley, were rugged, physical and played relentless, in-your-face defense. The new Knicks are far from intimidating.
"They look kind of strange out there without Oakley and Starks," Mourning said. "Those two, and Patrick, were really the core of the Knicks. While they're different, I think they're capable of being a dangerous team."
It was Mourning who took a swing at Johnson during Game 4 of last year's playoffs. Mourning's suspension for the next game (Johnson was also suspended for throwing a punch) may have cost the favored Heat the series.
But neither player got caught up in the hype, choosing not to talk about the incident.
"That's you all trying to make this more than it really is," said Hardaway. "All both teams are trying to do is play ball."
Hardaway was also a part of the hype, as stories of his reported dislike of Sprewell from their days at Golden State came up. Sprewell, before the game, said reports of their oral clashes were overblown.
"When we were with Golden State, we were losing, and I think that we were both frustrated," Sprewell said. "When he got traded, he did something that had me put him in high regards. He came to my room, told me he had been traded and said, 'We're cool.' I respected him for that."
After yesterday's game, the two briefly exchanged pleasantries.
"Just friendly words between both guys who used to play on the same team," Hardaway said.
Who knows if the friendliness will remain later in the season if Miami and New York are fighting for the Atlantic Division title. New York has to address some problems, and it will go into Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards without a victory.
"This is a very cut-and-dried business -- you're either winning or you're losing, and right now we're losing," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who has split his 22 games against his ex-boss, Pat Riley. "The season's going to go quick."
As for the Heat, which got a big fourth-quarter lift when veteran guard Terry Porter hit three jump shots, it was a fortunate win for a team trying to get its pieces in place.
"Timmy and I have to play well, and it's going to come around," Mourning said. "Fortunately, we had a veteran like Terry Porter who got the job done. We're going to have to get it down collectively."
Miami 26 18 23 16 -- 83
New York 21 16 24 18 -- 79
MIAMI -- Mashburn 9-16 5-6 23, Brown 3-7 0-1 6, Mourning 7-21 2-4 16, Majerle 2-3 0-0 5, Hardaway 4-15 1-2 11, Weatherspoon 4-7 1-2 9, Porter 5-7 1-2 13, Askins 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 34-77 10-17 83.
NEW YORK -- Johnson 6-17 0-0 13, Sprewell 2-12 1-2 5, Ewing 10-25 4-7 24, Houston 9-19 2-3 21, Ward 2-3 0-0 5, Thomas 2-8 3-8 7, Childs 2-3 0-0 4, Dudley 0-0 0-0 0, Camby 0-2 0-2 0. Totals 33-89 10-22 79.
3-point goals--Miami 5-8 (Hardaway 2-3, Porter 2-3, Majerle 1-2), New York 3-10 (Ward 1-1, Johnson 1-2, Houston 1-3, Sprewell 0-4). Fouled out--none. Rebounds--Miami 45 (Brown 13), New York 73 (Ewing 17). Assists--Miami 20 (Hardaway 7), New York 18 (Ward 7). Total fouls--Miami 19, New York 18. A--19,763 (19,763).
Pub Date: 2/08/99