KNICKS WANT ANSWERS: Latrell Sprewell's teammates want an explanation, even though the fans seem ready to forgive and forget. Sprewell was back on the court yesterday for the Knicks after his unexcused, underexplained absence from the first week of training camp, but the scars in the locker room from his seven days of selfishness were not yet healed.

Coach Jeff Van Gundy addressed the team and told them the matter merits more discussion, and the rest of the players wondered whether Sprewell would stand before them and take the heat.

"Some discussion should take place out of respect," tri-captain Allan Houston said. "We want to hear something from him, but we're not going to pull teeth. I'm not going to lose sleep by him not coming forward, but we would like to hear from him."

HEAT IN TEL AVIV: Tim Hardaway had 24 points and nine assists in Tel Aviv, as the Heat beat Maccabi Tel Aviv, 126-91, in an exhibition game.

Before a raucous crowd of more than 7,000 at the Yad Eliahu sports palace, the Heat took a 13-2 lead, but Maccabi tied the game 36-36 with 7:38 left in the half only to see Miami close the half with a 32-9 run.

"He was great tonight. He had the most impact," Heat Coach Pat Riley said of Hardaway. ". . . He was business-like, pushing the ball down the court."

Heat F Mark Strickland had 19 points, while G Mark Brisker led Maccabi Tel Aviv with 19 points.