The game lost some of its luster when Carmelo Anthony had to back out with a finger injury, but the Knicks definitely had the Miami Heat’s attention heading into Thursday night’s meeting.

The defending champs gave the Knicks, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2000, the ultimate respect, and it wasn’t because they beat Miami by 20 on opening night. The Heat’s star players, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, sounded as if they expect the Knicks to challenge them all season.

“In the Eastern Conference, you would have to look up and say they’re the measuring stick right now, and they would say the same about us,” Wade said at the morning shootaround.

Of course, the Heat thought Anthony was playing when those nice things were said. He sat out with a left middle finger laceration suffered in Wednesday’s win in Charlotte…

James didn’t want to give the Knicks much credit before they met in November, but he acknowledged that they’ve become tougher, smarter and harder to defend.

“They’re a more experienced team,” James said. “They’re more dangerous. They added a key piece in Jason Kidd. His basketball IQ is pretty much one of the highest that we have in this league. It kind of trickles down to everyone else.”

– Reported by Al Iannazzone of New York Newsday

Or, as LeBron James put it after putting himself through a postgame workout — as if he, with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists was the problem — “They kicked our ass. They have pretty much dominated us in two games.”

That’s the reality, and Thursday the Knicks did so without Carmelo Anthony, hitting 18-of-44 shots from behind the arc.

“We’ve got work to do,” James said. “We can’t act like, OK, let’s just sweep this under the rug. We’ve got a lot of work to do. New York is a real team, they’ve got

some real good players, and we understand that.”

Why did James work up a postgame sweat in the weight room?

“I’ve got to be better,” James said. “I’ve got to be better. It’s that simple. I’m here, and I’m the last one to leave.”

– Reported by Ethan J. Snolnick of the Palm Beach Post