NEW YORK — Facing off as Eastern Conference foes for the first time, longtime Denver Nuggets teammates Carmelo Anthony and Nene found themselves matched up against each other at the end of the first half of the Washington Wizards’ 108-87 loss to the New York Knicks on Friday night.
Anthony dribbled and shook and Nene lunged and bounced, until finally Anthony released a long jumper that splashed through the net. Anthony turned his back to Nene, nodding his head and grinning as adoring fans cheered and the halftime buzzer sounded.
Nene simply adjusted the sleeve on his left elbow and headed to locker room for halftime, fully aware that this wasn't going to be the night for him or his team.
The Wizards were only down 11, but the deficit felt much larger with the Knicks scoring with ease and Washington laboring. The Wizards (1-13) lost by more than 10 points for the fifth time, with the past two defeats to New York and San Antonio decided by a combined 47 points.
“I mean, at this time of the year, it’s still early in the season. I don’t think it’s no time for them to close the lid right now,” Anthony said of the Wizards. “Nene is a guy that’s not going to play until he’s completely healthy and when he’s healthy, you know what type of guy he is. And they’re missing John [Wall], too.”
Wall looked on from the bench and Nene was crestfallen after the game, resting his sore left foot in a bucket of ice and declining to speak with reporters.
The Wizards arrived in New York feeling better about themselves after recording their first victory in their previous game. Coach Randy Wittman hoped the confidence gained from that win, as well as the atmosphere of Madison Square Garden, would lead to an inspired performance from his team.
But abandoning the ball movement and stout defense that contributed to a win over Portland just two days before, the Wizards reverted to many of the bad habits that led to a franchise-worst 12 game losing streak to open a season. They recorded a season-low 11 assists and committed 17 turnovers.
“Eleven assists and 17 turnovers, playing a team like this makes it hard,” Wittman said. “Puts you in a bind.”
The Wizards also neglected to play any semblance of defense, leaving Knicks shooters open for uncontested three-pointers. New York made 12 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“Overall bad game for us,” rookie Bradley Beal said after scoring 14 points. “Our mental focus wasn’t there. It’s like they got what they wanted. They moving the ball, passing and swinging, hitting threes, getting layups when they wanted to. It’s just back to the drawing board.”
After holding Portland to a season-low 82 points, the Wizards allowed New York to reach 84 with 2 minutes 33 seconds left in the third quarter when Rasheed Wallace made a three-pointer to give his team a 23-point lead. The Knicks, who have won 10 straight against the Wizards, were able to showboat from there, with reserve J.R. Smith (20 points) catching a lob and throwing down a reverse dunk early in the fourth period.
The Knicks (11-4) are obviously a much better team than the Trail Blazers, tied for first place in the Atlantic Division and with Anthony playing some of his best basketball since arriving in a blockbuster trade in February 2011. But they are undermanned as well, with Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert all out with injuries.
Anthony scored 20 points with five rebounds and five assists in just three quarters. Five players scored in double figures for the Knicks, with Tyson Chandler adding 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“They got a lot of weapons out there and they do a good job of getting everybody involved,” Jordan Crawford said after scoring a team-high 17 points. “The ball kind of stuck with us.”
Nene’s presence produced obvious benefits in his first two games after returning from a left foot injury, with the Wizards outscoring opponents by 31 points in his first 49 minutes on the floor. But the rust of missing more than three months from basketball has started to finally show, and the dramatic runs that followed once he stepped on the floor started to dry out against Portland. He had nine points and a season-high seven rebounds Friday but the Knicks outscored the Wizards by 10 points in his 18 minutes on the floor.
“I know he’s been dabbling with some injuries,” said Anthony, who played with Nene for 81 / 2 seasons, “but to have him back, when he’s healthy, he’s an animal out there.”
The only positive for Washington was that the game wasn’t as lopsided as the teams’ last meeting in April, when the Knicks won by 38 points and held the Wizards to a franchise-low 22 field goals. The path to a second win won’t get much easier next week with the Wizards set to face three more teams with winning records in Miami, Atlanta and Golden State.