Improved defensive play has helped the New York Knicks put together a strong month. Another matchup with the woeful New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night could help them enter the new year in strong fashion.
New York (12-19) has won nine of 14 this month, allowing an average of 95.3 points to rank among the stingiest teams in the NBA during that stretch. That's a vast improvement from the Knicks' dismal 3-14 start that saw them give up league-high 109.2 points per game.
The Knicks haven't allowed an opponent to score over 100 points for 11 games in a row, their longest such streak since a 19-game run Feb. 18-March 26, 2001.
Their sudden defensive success was evident again Tuesday night, as they won 104-87 at Detroit while connecting on 51.3 percent from the field and holding the Pistons to 41.8. David Lee led New York with a season-high 30 points, making 13 of 19 shots and pulling down 12 rebounds
"We played pretty good defense (Tuesday), and that's going to be the one thing we can do consistently," Lee said. "I've been shooting the ball well, and it helps everyone on the floor when I shoot because it opens up the floor for the other guys to operate."
Lee has been outstanding from the field over the last four games, sinking 69.5 percent of his shots to average 23.5 points with 14.8 boards.
He leads the team with a career-high 18.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds.
Lee was impressive in the last meeting with the Nets (2-29), going 12 for 18 from the floor for 24 points while collecting nine rebounds in a 106-97 win on Dec. 6.
The Knicks have won four of the last five visits to New Jersey, winning 98-91 on Nov. 21.
The Nets own the worst record in the league, and haven't shown many signs of improvement. They fell for the 10th straight time Monday, losing 105-89 to Oklahoma CIty after producing just 13 fourth-quarter points.
"I don't know if we ran out of gas or did they turn it up?" interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. "Give them credit. We have to find a way to push through that last 12 or 15 minutes when teams make runs."
New Jersey set an NBA record by opening this season with 18 consecutive losses, and ranks last with an average of 89.8 points per game.
The club hasn't come close to snapping their current slide, getting outscored by nearly 15 points per contest.
While the Nets continue their road to missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, Yi Jianlian has become a bright spot lately.
The forward matched his career high with 29 points and grabbed seven boards against the Thunder. He's averaging 22.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in three games after missing the previous 24 with a knee injury.
Yi, who missed the last two meetings with the Knicks, has been plagued by injuries throughout his two-plus NBA seasons since being drafted sixth overall by Milwaukee in 2007.