Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks know they can't entirely dismiss the rivalry talk, not with the Nets just a few miles away.
On the court and in the standings, the distance keeps growing.
Anthony scored 31 points in his return to the lineup, and New York beat Brooklyn 100-86 on Wednesday night in the third meeting this season between the city rivals.
After two tight games in Brooklyn, the Knicks turned the first one at Madison Square Garden into a rout by dominating the second half. Anthony, who missed two games with a sprained left ankle, moved fine and shot well, though his scoring average against the Nets this season actually dropped to 37 points per game.
"At the end of the day, these are statement games, these are big games, divisional games," Anthony said. "They're right across the bridge, so these games definitely mean a lot."
J.R. Smith added 19 points and Tyson Chandler had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who bounced back from their first home loss Monday against Jeremy Lin and Houston, improving to 11-1 at MSG.
Chandler scored 12 on 6-of-8 shooting in the second half.
"I just wanted to close the game. I wanted to make a statement," Chandler said. "Tonight was a big game for us, a game in our division, an opportunity to gain a full game as far as the lead goes, and we have to make statements like that."
Joe Johnson scored 17 points for the Nets, who have lost three straight and eight of 10. What once was a deadlock for the Atlantic Division lead after the first meeting is now a six-game advantage for the Knicks.
"We have a lot of season left. We'll get it turned around," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "We're going to get back in the lab on Friday and work on some parts of our game and get this bad taste out."
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez each had 16 points for Brooklyn.
The Nets won 96-89 in overtime on Nov. 26 in the rescheduled season opener that was postponed after Superstorm Sandy, and the Knicks pulled out a 100-97 victory Dec. 11 behind Anthony's 45 points and Jason Kidd's tiebreaking 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.
This one was only close for a half with the Knicks outscoring the Nets 48-38 in the final 24 minutes.
"Once they started hitting the way they did, it's kind of deflating," Williams said. "It takes you away from your game. You try to get it all back at once instead of being patient and executing like we did in the first half."
The game lacked the energy and nonstop crowd noise of the two matchups in Brooklyn. Perhaps this crowd just wasn't balanced enough, Brooklyn black hard to spot amid the rows of orange, thanks to a hat giveaway by the Knicks.
Or perhaps Knicks fans were just fatigued from recent visits from the Lakers and Lin, and didn't view a game against the Nets the same way the up-and-coming fan base in Brooklyn does when facing the more established franchise. Though they began to concede it was a rivalry after the two tense games at Barclays Center, Knicks players had previously said there wasn't really any, and wouldn't be until they had some meaningful postseason meetings.
The Knicks are still getting used to sharing their city, the Garden public address announcer accidentally saying Williams was checking in for New Jersey at one point.
But Anthony clearly gets up for the games against the team from his birthplace. He had his highest-scoring game of the season in the last meeting, Avery Johnson saying before the game that "he kind of got away from us a little it in Game 2, is what I'll call it."
The Nets didn't do much better against him in Game 3.
The Knicks weren't even sure Anthony would play until he worked out before the game. He said he realized once the game got going, he was able to do things he wasn't sure his ankle would allow.
"He looked good to me. If he's not 100 percent, I'll take whatever percent he was tonight, because that was awesome," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
Anthony had 17 points at halftime, leading the Knicks to a 52-48 lead. Chandler took over in the third, getting four dunks among his 10 points, hooking up with Pablo Prigioni on an alley-oop that made it 75-65 with 11.2 seconds remaining in the quarter.
New York scored seven straight points early in the fourth to open a 14-point cushion, and the benches on both sides emptied after a 3-pointer by Smith and four straight points by Anthony extended it to 98-80.
NOTES: The Knicks played without reserve forwards Steve Novak (ill) and Rasheed Wallace (sore left foot). ... Johnson said the status of Jerry Stackhouse (sore right knee) for Sunday's game against Philadelphia would be determined by how he gets through practice Friday and Saturday. ... The Nets said this was the first meeting of Brooklyn and New York City-based pro sports franchises in Manhattan since Sept. 8, 1957, when the Dodgers visited the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.