The end of the regular season was just 11 days away and the Heat had all but sewn up the Atlantic Division championship. The night before it defeated host Detroit, 94-88, in an emotionally and physically draining game.

And here Miami was, getting drilled by 20 points by vacation-bound New Jersey. The Nets' home crowd was all over coach Pat Riley and his struggling team. It looked like this spiritless effort would cost Miami a victory.Then came the rally, and Miami's 30th road victory.

"On the road, all you have are your teammates," Heat reserve center Isaac Austin said. "You don't have the fans behind you. You don't have anything but each other. We learned to believe and trust in each other because we were all that each other had. That is why we were able to win like we did."

Miami finished with an NBA-best 32 victories in other teams' arenas. It won 29 games at home. The Knicks, Trail Blazers, Rockets and Bulls were among the many powers included in Miami's road spree.

The Heat used an us-against-the-world mentality to get through the tough times on the road, players said. But if the Heat felt alone against a hostile environment before, today will make anything it has been through seem like child's play.

Miami will be chum in a pool of sharks.

The Heat will play its first postseason game ever at Madison Square Garden, and the fans, the media and the Knicks, won't be hospitable.

Riley will return to taunts from those who can't let go of their bad feelings for him because he left New York for Miami. And the media will fuel the flames by dredging up whatever it can to create even more of a stir.

"I love the Garden," Riley said. "I love the raucous sounds. Some guys behind the bench get loud and use every word in the dictionary. One thing about the Garden, if you can get off to a good start sometimes it gets a little bit quiet. But sometimes it gets a little bit loud."

Besides the outside factors, the all-too-confident Knicks, who finished second to Miami in the Atlantic Division, will try to defend the honor host Miami stole in Game 2 Friday with an 88-84 victory to even the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference semifinal at 1-1. With that victory the Heat also guaranteed at least one more game in Miami, that coming Wednesday night.

"Even though they beat us three out of four times in the regular season, we did win one and that was in the Garden," Heat forward P.J. Brown said of Miami's 99-75 rout of the Knicks on Dec. 3. "We played well twice up there. The second game we were right there with a chance to win but made some mental mistakes down the stretch.

"We feel good to even the series because we slipped the other night in the first game. We are looking forward to going up there and playing some good basketball."

Said Riley: "They expected to win both times here because they believe they're better than us and there's nothing wrong with that. They have confidence they can beat us and there's nothing wrong with that. They probably expect to win three in a row and there's nothing wrong with that.

"They think we don't belong on the same court. They think that what we did in the regular season was a fluke."

The Heat's success on the road is a result of the type of players Miami has, Jamal Mashburn said. This is a team made of up players everybody doubted at some point in their careers and each one, to a man, is hellbent on proving people wrong.

Away from home is where point guard Tim Hardaway heard taunts that he was washed up; where center Alonzo Mourning and Brown got screamed at for being overpaid; where Voshon Lenard was reminded that he was a CBA player lucky to be in the NBA; and where Mashburn can't get away from cries that he is an underachiever.

"We love playing on the road because everybody is against you," Mashburn said. "It's the competitive nature of the guys on this team. There's nothing like silencing a crowd when you're on a roll. The thing is, this is a whole different situation than in the regular season."