Carmelo Anthony returned from a two-game layoff due to a sprained ankle to score a game-high 31 points as the New York Knicks defeated the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets 100-86.
The Knicks improved to 19-6 to retain their top spot in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference. Brooklyn is six games behind New York in the conference’s Atlantic Division.
“It’s going to be a dogfight in this division the whole season,” Nets coach Avery Johnson told reporters. “Even though the Knicks are leading the division, they’re not leading the division by 15 or 20 games. It’s early in the season.”
Anthony scored 17 points in the first half as the Knicks took a 52-48 halftime advantage last night on their home court at Madison Square Garden. They outscored the Nets 48-38 in the second half to hand Brooklyn its third straight loss.
“At the end of the day, these are statement games, these are big games, divisional games,” Anthony told reporters. “They’re right across the bridge, so these games definitely mean a lot.”
The Knicks have won two of the three contests between the New York teams this season. The Nets won 96-89 in overtime on Nov. 26 in the rescheduled season opener that was postponed by Superstorm Sandy. On Dec. 11, Anthony scored 45 points as the Knicks won 100-97 on Jason Kidd’s tiebreaking 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.
J.R. Smith added 19 points and Tyson Chandler had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks.
“I just wanted to close the game, I wanted to make a statement,” Chandler said. “Tonight was a big game for us, a game in our division, an opportunity to gain a full game as far as the lead goes, and we have to make statements like that.”
Joe Johnson led the Nets (13-12) with 17 points, while Deron Williams and Brook Lopez each had 16 points.
“We have a lot of season left, we’ll get it turned around,” Avery Johnson said. “We’re going to get back in the lab on Friday and work on some parts of our game and get this bad taste out.”