Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - His MVP hype may have dimmed since a torrid start to his season thanks to various injuries, but at 29.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for a Knicks team that surprisingly leads the Atlantic Division at the midway point of the NBA season, Carmelo Anthony still warrants MVP consideration.
Part of the reason for that MVP consideration is his play in tight spots, bright spotlights and big games. Just ask the Nets.
As the Nets and Knicks prepare to match up for the fourth and final time this regular season on Monday at Madison Square Garden at 3:30 p.m., one thing is pretty clear. Anthony has owned his crosstown rivals in their first year sharing New York City.
In three games this season against the Nets, Anthony is averaging a gaudy 37 points and seven rebounds in 43 minutes per game. That includes a 45-point outburst on Dec. 11 when he shot 15-for-24 from the field in 44 minutes of a 100-97 Knicks win at Barclays Center.
"We have to locate him, we have to minimize his 3's, his attempts, minimize his free throw attempts to start and just get good help because no one individual is gonna be able to lock him up," Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said at practice at PNY Center on Sunday afternoon. "You can make him work, but there are nights when Melo really has it going, he’s going to get his points."
With the Nets sporting a full, healthy roster, it will likely be Gerald Wallace drawing defensive duty on Anthony. Wallace normally draws the opposition's top offensive weapon, but that hasn't really mattered yet between these two teams.
Wallace was there for the 45-point outburst on Dec. 11 and was also around on Dec. 19 for the last meeting between the Nets and Knicks when Anthony went for 31 points on 12-for-22 shooting, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, in 36 minutes of a 100-86 win.
That last meeting was the only one of the three that did not come down to the waning minutes. A close game going into the second half, the Knicks ripped off a 25-7 run in the third quarter to take an 82-68 lead and pull away behind an abundance of pick-and-rolls that ended in lobs and dunks by Tyson Chandler.
"You just have to try and make him work," Carlesimo said. "When you play the Knicks, that’s the No. 1 focus. He's played very well against us. That’s where we start and we have to help whoever is on him during the game."
Anthony's recent dominance of the Nets also crosses state lines. In the Knicks final game against the Nets in New Jersey last season before the franchise moved to Brooklyn, he hit his first six shots, including three 3-pointers, and scored 21 of his game-high 33 points in the first quarter of a 104-95 win in front of a pro-Knicks crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA