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Both times the Knicks and Nets have met in Brooklyn this season have felt like heavyweight championship fights from an era when heavyweight championship fights were the end-all and be-all of the sports world.
You could almost imagine the haze from cigar smoke settling over the court as the arena, evenly divided by partisans of both sides, never stopped making noise from the tense start to the thrilling finish. It was premature given the lack of history from the Jersey days, but it felt right to start referring to it as a rivalry.
Wednesday night made it clear that such a state of affairs exists only in Brooklyn. At the Garden, the rivalry never rose past the level of a Knicks-Wizards game as the Knicks rolled to a 100-86 win that made it clear the teams are in two very different places right now.
Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup and creativity returned to the Knicks offense as Anthony's presence opened up all the things the Knicks have done so well this season. It felt like Tyson Chandler finished with dunks off the pick-and-roll a dozen times, the Knicks three-point shooters drilled scores every time the Nets sagged off them and the passing out of doubles on Melo led to a slew of easy buckets for the Knicks.
And then there was Melo, who seemed to levitate at times on hesitation dribbles that left his Nets defender with no choice but to throw up his hands and admit defeat. He wasn't as dominant as the last win over the Nets, when he dropped 45, but it was an effortless 31 points that made you wonder how many he would have scored if he was fully healthy.
These are the Knicks we have seen all season. The question that is vexing our city's basketball world right now is one concerning the location of the Nets that won that initial meeting at the new arena just three weeks ago.
That Nets team played like a cohesive unit and bought into doing the dirty work on the defensive end of the floor. They took a punch, fired another one in return and then kept on fighting until the final whistle.
None of those qualities were in evidence on Wednesday night. There was a little fight early, but it disappeared after a technical on Kris Humphries.
And the offense was a big vote in favor of Deron Williams' assessment of Avery Johnson's scheme. When the Nets ran Williams' motion sets, they did damage to a Knicks defense that is still struggling to figure out the right way to guard players rolling to the hoop the way Brook Lopez did in the first 30 minutes or so of the game.
But the Nets chose to go to Johnson's isolation looks in the second half and you could almost feel the energy rushing out of the team when they did. A lot of standing and watching, which plays right into the hands of the Knicks defense and it isn't surprising that the game was never close again because the Nets pretty much stopped fighting.
Maybe this is just a bump in the road, but it felt like something more perilous. The Nets are already six games back of the Knicks and the ship keeps taking on water while the star you built your team around is pouting about the offense.
We've seen this story before and one of the lessons of this Knicks start, for better or worse, is that your star player better be on board with what the coach is selling. Williams and Johnson look a lot more like Anthony and D'Antoni than Anthony and Woodson right now.
That's a bad way to run a team and a bad way to stoke a rivalry that suddenly doesn't look or feel much different from the way it was when the Nets couldn't cross the Hudson.