Carmelo returns against soft Nets defense, sparks Knicks win

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We’ve got a way to go before this “battle of the boroughs” resembles a real rivalry. Or maybe even a fair fight.

After Wednesday night, the once-hot Brooklyn Nets are 2-8 in their last 10 games, and it all comes back to defense. Which we thought would be a weakness before the season even tipped off and it has been a trouble spot lately.

It showed up again Wednesday night facing the best offense in the NBA in the New York Knicks — and on a night they got Carmelo Anthony back. ‘Melo went for 31 points and the Knicks pulled away in the fourth quarter on their way to a comfortable 100-86 win at home. Comfortable as in this didn’t feel like a rivalry. Or a huge challenge. The Knicks are now up 2-1 in the season series on the Nets.

In their three meetings this season, Anthony has scored a combined 110 points.

The outcome here shouldn’t be a shock. In the Nets 10 games prior to this, they had given up 108.6 points per 100 possessions, which would be worse than the Hornets or any team has given up all season long. Then the Knicks came through and put up 114.3 on Wednesday night.

Antony was at the heart of it, putting up 17 points in the first half and being a key part of the 18-6 run where the Knicks took control of the game in the third quarter.

It was a night where the Madison Square Garden fans and the Knicks bench seemed flat, with the exception of J.R. Smith. The Knicks gunner sixth man had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists.

For the Knicks, this felt like a professional win. The kind really good teams have — they were not spectacular or dominant in any one area, they just executed when they had to and were better than their opponent in pretty much every category.

For the Nets, they got a close look at how far they are away from elite right now.

There is a lot of talk about the Nets offense — Deron Williams 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting Wednesday — complained before the game and Joe Johnson said after the game there is too much isolation. Normally I’d say a coach as tied to management as Avery Johnson is safe, but the Nets have pretty much locked themselves into this roster for a couple years. If the players can’t change…

Johnson needs to get them to. He needs to get them to defend, first, find some direction in the offense second. Because things are starting to go bad in Brooklyn and it could get a lot worse. Especially when they have to watch that team in Manhattan continue to look like a contender.