Nets Closing Fast on Knicks as Showdown Looms


GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mike Woodson
knows a thing or two about interim coaches having immediate success in New York.

A year ago, Woodson led the Knicks to an 18-6 regular-season record after taking over for Mike D’Antoni. Woodson has continued that run of success this season, leading the Knicks to a 25-13 start.

On Martin Luther King Day at Madison Square Garden, Woodson will go up against another interim coach enjoying success in New York. P.J. Carlesimo is 10-2 since taking over as the head man of the resurgent Brooklyn Nets (24-16), who trail the Knicks by just two games in the Atlantic Division standings.

“They’re 10-2 under P.J., so they’re doing something right,” Woodson said Sunday after practice. “In watching them on tape, they got a lot of good things. And I’ve said this from Day 1, I like the makeup of their ballclub and it should be a good game.”

The Knicks practiced Sunday for the first time since returning from London, where they handled the Detroit Pistons, 100-87, on Thursday.

Amar’e Stoudemire probably spoke for the whole team when he said he’s feeling “jetlagged.”

“Still on London time,” he said. “We had such a great time in the UK, it was unbelievable.”

The Knicks now have three critical divisional games this week: the Nets on Monday, a visit to Boston Thursday (featuring Carmelo Anthony’s reunion with Kevin Garnett) and a trip to Philadelphia Saturday.

“Big, big, big stretch for us coming up,” Stoudemire said. “Those are three tough games in the East for sure, so we gotta make sure that we recuperate from a long trip to the UK and focus on [Monday’s] game and go from there.”

The big week starts with the Nets, who are playing with a renewed sense of purpose under Carlesimo. The Knicks are 2-1 against Brooklyn this season and a win Monday would give them the season series, which could be critical in the playoffs. Anthony, who did not speak to the media, is averaging 37 points in three games against the Nets this season.

“Brooklyn is playing extremely well,” Jason Kidd said. “P.J.’s got those guys going. It was just a matter of time. Deron making shots, he’s playing at a high level, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

Even though Kidd and Stoudemire expect a passionate atmosphere, Amar’e said he doubts it will match the first meeting of the season between the teams in Brooklyn on Nov. 26.

“I don’t know if you can top Game 1,” Stoudemire said. “The atmosphere was out of control. The expectations of just that game was out the roof, so I don’t know if you can top that. But I do think both team is definitely playing well and it’s going to be a great, great battle tomorrow.”

Both Knicks center Tyson Chandler and Nets big man Brook Lopez are options to make the All-Star Game as reserves, and Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Reggie Evans are all playing well for Brooklyn.

“Lopez is playing well this year,” Stoudemire said. “I think the undertaker is probably Reggie Evans. He’s a guy that brings the energy and plays great defensively. He’s a great rebounder, he’s been that way his whole career. Gerald Wallace is back in the lineup, he’s playing well. So again with Joe Johnson and Deron, those two guys have been perennial All-Stars in this league. And I played with Joe in Phoenix so I know his game. It’s going to be a pretty interesting game.”

The Knicks, meantime, got a big boost from Iman Shumpert when he made his season debut in London after undergoing ACL surgery (scoring eight points). His minutes will be limited Monday, but he said he’s anxious to make his Garden debut.

“It’s going to be everything,” he said. “That will put a big smile on my face. Even though I’m supposed to have a game-face I’ll probably have a smile the first couple trips down. But overall I just hope that it provides enough energy for us to get off on the right foot. We’ve been starting games slow in the Garden and I want to make sure we get off on the right foot.”

The Knicks want to get off on the right foot and finish on one, too, so Carlesimo’s fast start is slowed for at least a day.

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Woodson said there is no update on Rasheed Wallace, who has missed five weeks with an acute stress reaction. “Just still rehabbing, that’s about it,” he said….Woodson also said there is no timetable on Raymond Felton’s return from a fractured pinkie.

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