By John Schmeelk
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Monday’s loss to the Nets was obviously a disappointing one for the Knicks, but it wasn’t an especially disconcerting one for the Knicks’ long-term success. I haven’t done this in a while, so here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from this year’s final regular-season edition of the Knicks-Nets rivalry.

The Good

The Knicks’ defense continues to perform at a fairly high level, giving up only 88 points to the Nets and holding them to just 42 percent from the field. It continues a current trend. In their last five games the Knicks hold a 98.7 defensive rating based on points per 100 possessions. That would be eighth best in the NBA.

In their last three games, the number drops to 94.2, good enough for sixth best in the NBA. This is where the Knicks need to live if they want to challenge for an Eastern Conference title. The fourth-quarter defense against the Nets could have been a little better, as the team allowed 23 points on 47 percent shooting, If not for their porous rebounding, the Knicks’ defensive numbers would look even better (see the Ugly section).

The Knicks managed just 17 points in the fourth quarter. Amar’e Stoudemire even showed some defensive prowess, closing out on three-point shooters on defensive rotations a number of times. The Knicks had an 87.4 defensive rating while Stoudemire was on the floor, the best of any player that played major minutes.

Stoudemire played perhaps his best game since returning to the lineup, with fifteen points (6-of-10 from the field) and six rebounds in 27 minutes. Besides the good defensive numbers, Stoudemire had a plus/minus of +4, the second best on the team to only Tyson Chandler (+8). He showed rhythm and confidence around the basket despite the late drive he had blocked by Brook Lopez. He worked well with Carmelo Anthony, who found him on cuts to the basket after the Nets helped out on his drives to the basket. If J.R. Smith was a more willing passer on some pick-and-roll opportunities, Stoudemire would have finished with even more points.

The Knicks also protected the ball extremely well, turning it over just five times as compared to 19 for the Nets. These were the type of numbers that the Knicks were putting up earlier in the season when they were playing their best basketball.

The Bad

This was not a banner day for the Knicks’ offense, which continues to struggle over the last couple of weeks. They ran way too much isolation and went away from the Anthony pick-and-roll way too early in the game. Once Pablo Prigioni left the second half with his toe injury, the offense stagnated with no one to start the offense. With Anthony often times isolated on the likes of Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, the Knicks went to him one-on-one. Anthony had the matchups he wanted but had a poor shooting day, going just 11-of-29. He had trouble finishing over the Nets’ big men over the course of the game. He did do an excellent job finding his teammates on his dribble penetration, dishing out seven assists. Even his final shot over Gerald Wallace was a very makeable one from inside 10 feet. He just missed it.

Anthony will have bad shooting days from time to time, and this was one of them. The Knicks’ offense needs to flow better so he doesn’t have to work so hard to get his shots.

Smith’s shooting slump continued as well, as she shot just 7-of-19 from the field. His shot selection wasn’t great, and he often times missed chances to hit the cut man on the pick-and-roll. His defense on Joe Johnson on the final possession was good until he didn’t get his hand up. Smith is a streaky player, and a stretch like this when he shot poorly was bound to come.

Finally, Prigioni’s injury is a bad one for the Knicks. Raymond Felton is due back soon and he should mitigate the loss, but if Prigioni is out for an extended time it might limit the Knicks’ ability to play two point guards at once. Jason Kidd played a good game, getting six steals and knocking down a pair of threes. but his defense is getting worse. He just doesn’t have the foot speed to stay in front of people when he is put in isolation opportunities.

The Ugly

The Knicks need to rebound the ball better than they did against the Nets. They were outrebounded by 15, and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Stoudemire is making some progress defensively, but he is still poor as a rebounder. When the Knicks went small, Anthony had trouble dealing with Humphries and Evans in the paint. Since he had a bad shooting day, he couldn’t make up that difference on the offensive end.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

So they split the season series — which is the better team, New Yorkers? Sound off with your thoughts and comments in the section below…

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