Knicks know Nets are Atlantic threat

After beating the Knicks on Monday, the Nets are just one game back in the Atlantic. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

The East River Rivalry may be done for the year, but the battle for the Atlantic Division crown is just getting started.

The Knicks lead the Nets by just one game in the Atlantic after their 88-85 loss to Brooklyn on Monday -- and many Knicks figure they'll be locked in a tight race with Brooklyn (and maybe Boston, too) for the rest of the way.

"We don't think they're going to go away or get bad all of a sudden. We have the mindset that it's going to be a battle until the end," Steve Novak said after the Nets tied the season series, 2-2.

"[Finishing] 2-2 against them stinks," J.R. Smith said. "It's like kissing your sister."

With Monday's loss, the Knicks have dropped four of six and are just 5-6 in their past 11. The last time they played the Nets, on Dec. 19, they walked off the Garden floor with a win (their 10th in 12 games) and a six-game lead in the division.

Clearly, things have changed since that mid-December game.

"I think it’s going to be a nice fight down the stretch for the division," Tyson Chandler said. "It’s good for New York basketball."

Mike Woodson's stated goal from Day 1 has been to win the Atlantic and gain home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. If the Knicks and Nets finish the season in a first-place tie (we know, there are 43 games to play), the next tiebreaker is division record.

The Knicks are 4-3 in the Atlantic. Brooklyn is 9-3.

"We've just got to figure out a way to win more games," Smith said. "We have Boston coming up [on Thursday]. We've got to get that one in Boston. We know it's going to be tough, but we've got to figure some way to grind it out."

For Carmelo Anthony, Monday's loss was a sour way to end what had been a string of strong performances against the Nets.

Anthony came into the Martin Luther King Day matinee averaging 37 points in three games against Brooklyn. But the Knicks star missed 18 of his 29 attempts on Monday, including a missed baseline jumper with 12.5 seconds to play and the Nets up by one.

"I didn’t execute. I didn’t make shots down the stretch, shots I know I can make, I normally make. It is what it is about that," Anthony said. "It’s over. We don’t see the [Nets] anymore."

That may be true, at least for the regular season, but the Knicks would be wise to keep an eye on them in the standings.