Heat Strokes, Game 27: Heat-Knicks, The Best Kind Of RancorS

FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.

Result: Heat 101, Cavaliers 95
Record: 19-8

I call it the Game of the Year, and I don't back down one bit. Only in part because, in this new life I'm trying to lead, Twitter is bond — not ephemera. As of today, I'll take this one over anything the networks have scheduled for Christmas Day.

The Heat welcomed the Cavs to South Beach on Tuesday, and won handily without bothering to prove a point. Or so I'm told. I was watching the Knicks go toe-to-toe with the Celtics, losing only after Pierce jiggled his way to a game-winner. When Amar'e knocked down a three just after the buzzer, there was no waving off the celebration. Maybe they couldn't beat Boston, even a Boston team making do with bits and piece of Rondo and a depleted front court. But it was close throughout, and came down to the last possession in an utterly satisfying way — more than can be said for the Heat's battles with Boston.

In short, the Knicks don't only score like crazy and, in their own grimy way, carry on the legacy of Seven Seconds or Less. They are a very good team. Style and substance bound up in one, just like yours truly always wants it. That's where the Heat have us believing they are, too. There will be stars, and when they're gone, we'll be left with highlights and enduring images of grace. Not that Guernica-in-shorts shit the Celtics have as their signature.

Some people feel that the best games are polemics, as if one night could settle an enduring argument over basketball's soul, or how exactly the game should be played. When they can't come up with one of those, they resort to cheap comparisons. Hence, the Knicks-Heat rivalry of the '90s is cast as flashy Miami against the Naked City — as if Miami weren't in post-coke decline, or New York in the throes of Rudy-wrought gentrification. Those series were about, ahem, brothers from another mother, or Cain and Abel, or some other analogy where estrangement and rage are all part of caring.

Those are the best kind of matchups, in the same way that sibling rivalries and Oedipal resentments always work better than some random interloper who makes everyone mad. They're also harder to accomplish in basketball. Anyone can be different — or in this case, give us grounds for contrast. To find two teams that are similar, yet different, and poised to tear into each other? It's downright rare. For them to both light up the scoreboard of the NBA's most esteemed arena, while both are on a hot streak? Please see this for the major event it is, and spare me your cynicism. Watch it if you hate the NBA, love it, wish death upon the Heat, whatever. Just don't mistake this for a war of opposites. The harder you try, the further away it slips. Besides, only newspaper columnist and aggrieved homers need care about that kind of storyline. The enemy is not unlike yourself. If you can't embrace that kind of rancor, at least don't get distracted trying to avoid it.

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com. He also writes The Works column for NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.