Knicks step up in Stoudemire's absence

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before the New York Knicks took the court at the Prudential Center, one of the key points on the whiteboard in the Knicks' locker room was "ball movement." After losing to the Clippers and Lakers at home, Mike D'Antoni alluded to the fact that the team wasn't moving the ball well and getting too complacent.

"I just don't think we had the energy out there to be a playoff team," D'Antoni said after the Clippers game.

But Saturday, the Knicks got things going right from the start, outscoring the New Jersey Nets 27-21 in the first quarter, leaving them a step slow as they tried to defend their up-tempo half court offense.

"I thought the ball movement was better," D'Antoni said after the Knicks' 105-95 victory. "We were able to penetrate and get into the lane and kick it out. When you do that, you usually find good shots."

The Knicks had one of their highest assist outputs of the season (25). Raymond Felton was the main catalyst, finishing with 11 assists and 13 points. Despite facing a 17-38 Nets team, the Knicks secured a must-win after losing four of their last five, highlighted by an embarrassing loss to the Lakers at MSG on Friday.

What was already a cloudy situation grew darker for the Knicks when it was revealed that Amare Stoudemire would be missing his first game of the season due to a sprained right big toe. But the Knicks adjusted well to a smaller lineup, which featured Wilson Chandler (21 points, eight rebounds and five blocks) as Stoudemire's replacement.

"They played us all small ball and it got to us," Nets shooting guard Anthony Morrow said. "We kind of had to adjust and we did pretty well for the most part, but we had some key breakdowns. We had some game plan issues at the end of the game and we can't have those issues, especially against a team that shoots the three as well as them."

And boy, did they ever. The Knicks' 16 3-pointers tied their second-highest single-game total of the season (they had 17 against the Suns on Jan. 7). The damage from downtown proved to be the dagger in the fourth quarter. The Knicks hit five 3-pointer -- three by Landry Fields -- to maintain a point margin in the winding minutes.

"We didn't really do a good job of rotating and we gave them wide-open shots in their sweet spots," Nets guard Devin Harris said. "When they get open in the opposite corner, that creates breakdowns in our system that we try to stay away from. We're not going to win too many games playing them that way."

On the other end, the Knicks aren't going to win too many games playing without Stoudemire. Fortunately, D'Antoni thinks he'll be listed as day-to-day, and the team has three days rest before facing the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at the Garden.

Jared Zwerling is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.