The Knicks hosted their arch-rivals on Monday in a nationally televised game on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
You would think a game like that would be easy to get up for.
Instead, the Knicks came out absolutely lifeless and appeared to lose the game in the first quarter en route to a 103-80 blowout loss at Madison Square Garden.
While the Nets left feeling as if they had exacted revenge for a 30-point blowout last month in Brooklyn, the Knicks were left with yet another double-digit loss and no real answers going forward.
“I really can’t put my finger on exactly why we got off to a slow start and just didn’t seem to have it today,” said Carmelo Anthony, who sat with a towel over his head to shield himself from embarrassment in the final minutes of a game in which the Knicks were roundly booed by the home fans.
The Knicks fell behind 27-16 in the first period and 52-38 at the half.
After about five minutes surrounded by a throng of reporters at his locker after the game, Anthony finally called out his team’s effort.
“That’s the only thing that kind of bothers me, that today we didn’t even fight,” he said. “I felt like we didn’t even fight as a team. From the jump ball it just felt that they just owned us today.”
The Knicks and the Nets have been bringing up the Atlantic Division for much of this surprising season, but now the Nets are surging upward while the Knicks are barely treading water.
Brooklyn (17-22) is 7-1 in 2014 and moved to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Toronto with the win.
“They came into our building and embarrassed us, so we wanted to return the favor,” Andray Blatche said, referring to the 30-point loss in December at Barclays Center.
“We are still building,” Paul Pierce said of the Nets. “We have a good groove going on right now since the New Year. The goal is to eventually get to .500 and continue to get better.”
The Knicks, meantime, have dropped four straight — all by double-digits — ever since a five-game winning streak that included victories of the San Antonio Spurs and the two-time NBA champion Miami Heat appeared to signal the start of a turnaround.
The team’s confidence has hit another low, and Anthony and Tyson Chandler spoke in hushed tones at their lockers.
“Everything was going good for us [during the winning streak] offensively and defensively,” Anthony said. “Guys felt good about themselves. There was a lot of confidence. Right now we don’t have that as a team.”
The Knicks are at the mid-way point of the season and they are 15-26, not exactly the stuff of a playoff contender.
“I don’t know how to deal with a situation like this,” said Anthony, who has said he will opt out of his contract this summer but also that he will retire a Knick. “I am learning. It is the first time.”
Asked if he was worried, he said, “Worried? I am not at that point yet because I still feel like we can figure it out.”
While the Knicks “figure” things out, the clock is ticking, and the Nets are moving up.
Adam Zagoria covers the New York Knicks and Big East hoops for NBA.com and SNY.tv. He also appears as a Big East Basketball Insider on SNY and 1050 ESPN Radio. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog.