By Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK -- The battle for New York is in danger of becoming lopsided, mostly because New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is playing at a "scary" level, as Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
The Knicks again asserted themselves over their new neighbors, topping the Brooklyn Nets, 100-86 Wednesday night in the teams' first matchup at Madison Square Garden since the Nets' move to the outer borough.
Anthony, who missed the past two games, returned from a sprained left ankle to lead the Knicks with 31 points. Tyson Chandler continued to offer his usual stellar defense and contribute offensively, adding 16 points and 12 rebounds while J.R. Smith scored 19 for the Knicks.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he is an MVP candidate," Woodson said of Anthony, who was cleared to play shortly before tip-off. "He is playing at a high level and it is scary. It's beautiful to watch."
Joe Johnson led the Nets with 17 points while Brook Lopez had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Deron Williams had 16 points and 10 assists.
The Knicks (19-6) moved six games up on the Nets (13-12), who have followed up a red-hot November by losing eight of 10 this month.
"I just think mentally we've got to be more in the game in the second half, including myself," Nets forward Gerald Wallace said, a point that was also made by Johnson.
The teams played a pair of tight contests in Brooklyn and did so for most of the first three quarters on Wednesday, but the Knicks pulled away at the end of the period and the beginning of the fourth and led by double-digits for most of the final quarter. That helped the Knicks win their ninth game in their past 11 and improve to 11-1 at home.
Anthony didn't appear to miss a beat in his return, again earning "MVP!" chants from the crowd. He looked fine from the start, putting up 17 points in the first half and helping the Knicks run away with the game during the key stretch at the end of the third.
"Throughout the game, I was feeling it," Anthony said of the injured ankle, which he said was still bruised, but felt fine. "There were certain things I did early in the game that I didn't think I could do. I told myself to get through and play."
Added Woodson about Anthony, "He looked good to me. If he's not 100 percent, I'll take whatever percent he was tonight, because he was awesome."
While the Knicks' biggest star has produced one of his best all-around seasons so far, the Nets' star point guard, Williams, is having one of his worst.
Averaging fewer points and assists and hitting on a lower percentage of shots than he has since his first couple of years in the NBA, Williams scored just two points in the first half and three in the fourth quarter.
Williams showed a flash of his scoring potential as he heated up to start the third quarter. He scored nine points to help turn a 52-48 halftime deficit for the Nets into a 61-57 lead with 6:54 to go in the period.
But New York responded with an 18-6 spurt to end the quarter, as Chandler and Anthony combined to score 15 points and put the Knicks up 75-67 entering the fourth.
New York then opened the fourth going on a 7-1 spurt, behind four points from Smith to go up 82-68 with 8:10 left.
With Williams held to just the three points and two assists in the fourth, the Nets never got within single digits the rest of the way.
Earlier in the week, Williams had acknowledged he was more comfortable in former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's system and that he was still "adjusting" to Nets coach Avery Johnson's offense, which is focused on isolations and post-ups with less ball movement. The coach responded by saying coaches and players don't always agree and that they should be able to work it out.
Asked about the offense after Wednesday's loss, Joe Johnson said the problem was more a matter of consistency.
"It works in the first half, so it should work in the second half, so it's not about the offense," Johnson said. "I don't think we run our sets in the third quarter. We just have a tendency to play one-on-one basketball."
Williams also said the team needed to play a "full 48 minutes" and acknowledged the team was "frustrated," while saying the players were still adjusting to playing together.
"We've gotta get better," he said. "It's not anybody's fault. As players, we've got to come out with more energy, more focus."
NOTES: Unlike the games in Brooklyn, when the crowd featured fans of both teams, there was little representation of Brooklyn in the Knicks' building and the crowd was specked with orange due to a Knicks cap giveaway. ... Knicks guard Steve Novak was out with flu-like symptoms. ... Knicks forward Rasheed Wallace was out for the third game in a row with a sore left foot. ... Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse missed his fifth consecutive game with a sore right knee. Johnson said Stackhouse could return Sunday. Josh Childress was also out with a sore left foot for the Nets.