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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Nets-door neighbor a threat to Knicks

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPNNewYork.com

One could sit here and lament the absence of Jason Kidd and the fatigue of Carmelo Anthony -- and acknowledge the elevated hype of Brooklyn hosting the New York Knicks for the first time -- and conclude that the Nets won their first encounter against their purported city rivals for those reasons alone.

But that doesn't pass a simple eye test. Monday night's outcome was no fluke, and the Knicks had better pay attention if they're interested in sustaining their hold on the hearts of New Yorkers for years to come.

The Brooklyn Nets pulled off a 96-89 overtime victory because they are younger, faster, deeper, more athletic and blessed with a bevy of ways to beat most opponents, rather than relying on one superstar to save the day.

"We're an improved team," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "We've made the necessary changes to improve this team. We're better because of it and we have a purpose. Now we just have to go out there and do it. That's the goal every night."

Deron Williams scored 16 points and dished out 14 assists. Brook Lopez recorded 22 points and 11 rebounds. But those are not the only reasons the Nets are a bona-fide threat to supremacy in this city.

The 16 points Gerald Wallace scored in 42 minutes pale in comparison to the defensive effort he displayed versus Anthony. There was a reason Melo was breathing so heavily.

"We tried to give Melo different looks," Johnson said, "but he saw Gerald more than anybody."

Nets guard Joe Johnson proclaimed that the better team won on Monday night. The Knicks will see how true that is over the next 3½ weeks, when they're scheduled to meet up with the Nets twice more. Regardless of what happens, it won't completely erase the residue from Monday night, highlighting the reasons New York's Manhattan team is a subpar 3-4 after a 6-0 start to the season.

Anthony may have finished the game with 35 points and 13 rebounds, but he did it over the course of 50 minutes. "He was exhausted," Knicks coach Mike Woodson deadpanned afterward. "Fatigue had definitely set in."

Yet Woodson had no choice but to stay with his scoring machine of a star forward, because Raymond Felton was having one of the most awful nights of his career, shooting 3-of-19 from the field; J.R. Smith (2-for-7) launched just seven shots in 41 minutes; Rasheed Wallace went 2-for-11, shooting more 3-pointers (six) than anyone else on the team; and Steve Novak attempted only three field goals in 18 minutes.

Woodson -- still without the services of injured Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert -- had no choice but to run Melo into the ground.

"Those were just the circumstances of this particular game," Woodson explained Tuesday. "That's not normal. Melo's averaging around 35 minutes per game. The other stars in this game, like LeBron [James] and others, are there, and that's where Melo needs to be."

Tyson Chandler's 28 points and 10 rebounds in 45 minutes undoubtedly were greatly appreciated by any Knicks fan. But "reliability" is a word that should never be associated with Chandler's offense. So what's the fallback plan for the Knicks when Melo needs additional help?

"We'll figure everything out in due time," Woodson explained. "But we're not doing too bad right now. We're still at the top of our division."

Perhaps somebody forgot to tell Woodson, but the Nets are also atop the Atlantic Division.

"We don't intend on going anywhere," Nets swingman Jerry Stackhouse said. "We've got something good going on here. We've got a great home crowd. And now we struck the first blow. Over the long haul, who knows what the situation may end up being, but as of today we're the best team in New York."

Once upon a time we thought the Knicks would determine such matters. Now it's official: They are not alone. The Nets will have something to say about it, too.