Nets say Knicks are better after battle of N.Y.


NEW YORK -- Less than a week ago, the New York Knicks were struggling to master the concepts that: one-on-one usually equals two for an opponent; nine losses in 11 games isn't a playoff pace; and the streaking New Jersey Nets, of all people, had passed them in the standings and were making noises about claiming the hearts and minds of area hoop junkies.

Of course, a lot can change in a week. And now seems like a good time to reconsider the local NBA state of affairs, after the Knicks' 125-104 sobering of the Nets Saturday night at Meadowlands Arena.

Practicing the "help thy neighbor" defense that new coach John MacLeod has been preaching, the Knicks pieced together a 21-0 blitzkrieg to win for the third time in a row and doom the Nets to their third loss in four games. With a run that lasted longer than one of Madonna's relationships, the Knicks made a realist out of Sam Bowie, an apologist out of Bill Fitch and a theorist out of Reggie Theus.

"New York is a better team than New Jersey right now," said Bowie, the foul-plagued center who did not make a single shot from the field en route to being outscored, 31-5, by Patrick Ewing. "You know that teams are going to make runs in this league. ... But talk about walls collapsing."

"It was an embarrassment," Fitch said. "I can't explain to you why the ball doesn't go in, why you can't get a call and why a whole game can turn around. But no matter what we did or who we put out there, it didn't matter."

"They have been there before," said Theus, who had 25 first-half points and finished tying his season high of 36 points. "When the time came to elevate their game to another level, they did it for seven minutes."

The Knicks, now 10-11 and two games up on the Nets, held New Jersey without a field goal from 7:04 left in the third period until 8:15 to play in the game. They outscored the Nets, 35-7, during the binge.

"If we follow our new defensive rules, we can be an outstanding defensive team," said Gerald Wilkins, who added 24 points for the Knicks. "When the ball moves, you move. When your man moves, you move. If you always see the ball and the man, you're always in position to help out. Then, you can shut down the driving lanes and the passing lanes."

If MacLeod's teachings sound simple, that's because they are. But, easy to express doesn't necessarily equal easy to execute with the Lakers and Magic coming to town tomorrow night.

"We're looking forward to playing them, but you can't afford to get too jacked up for any one game in this league," said MacLeod. "We know they are a tremendous team and we hope we'll be up to the challenge."

Meanwhile, the Nets, fading at 8-13 going into tonight's home game against the Mailman-led, sizzling Utah Jazz, are looking for consolation. But even the limited return of a subpar Derrick Coleman (five points and six turnovers in 15 minutes) from the sprained ankle that had sidelined him for three games couldn't make the Nets' fourth straight weak defensive effort palatable. They have allowed just a shade over 119 points per game since getting derailed from a five-wins-in-six-games roll.

"I think our lack of maturity showed," Theus said of a blown 17-point, first-half lead Saturday night. "You have to stay with the things that get you where we were. We got away from them in the second half and we stopped pushing the ball up."

"We played a strong first half. We played New Jersey Nets basketball and played like a team," Jack Haley said. "But in the second half, we fragmented. It was disheartening and frustrating to be dominated like that. They took complete control."

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