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Notebook: Closer look at defensive woes

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Knicks' opponent tonight, the Nets, have been pretty consistent on defense this season.

That hasn't been the case for the Knicks. Before they played the Mavericks on Nov. 21, they were holding opponents to 96.1 points per 100 possessions -- the fourth-best mark in the NBA. But since that loss, that number has skied high to a fifth-worst 106.4.

So what's going on? Here are three key notables:

1. They're picking up the pace, but not getting back on D. Before Nov. 21, they had the second-slowest pace with 91.95 possessions per 48 minutes. Since then, they've picked it up to 94.15 (around the league average). One of the biggest reasons is their growing reliance on 3-point shooting. Due to longer rebounds from downtown misses, and the team's fatigue, which Raymond Felton admitted to after the Rockets game, they haven't been hustling back. Their transition defense went from 12.1 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting (before Nov. 21) to 17.9 points and 61.7 percent.

2. They're not defending one-on-one plays. They rank last in isolation points per game (12) and isolation plays run against them (13). Eighty-two NBA players have defended at least 30 isolation plays this season, and Carmelo Anthony is actually allowing the most isolation points per play (1.19). Overall, Jason Kidd has given up a league-high 50 isolation points this season. While he has provided the team a big boost on offense with his 3s and passing, opponents are going right at the 39-year-old, who's playing the most two guard he has ever played in his 18-year career. Look for the Nets to do that tonight.

3. Their inside presence has gotten worse. Before Nov. 21, they were allowing an eighth-best 37.8 points in the paint per game. Since then, they've been giving up a third-worst 44.3. That's because the perimeter defense has obviously broken down, and Tyson Chandler is basically on his own interior island without much backup support.

"He and Kurt (Thomas) right now are our really only big men," Mike Woodson said after Wednesday morning's shootaround. "We're back to how we somewhat looked last year in terms of our bigs. We're short-handed."

COPE-ACABANA NIGHT?: If Anthony can't go tonight, Chris Copeland will get his third straight start. He's coming off a season-high 29 points against the Rockets.

"He's improved in terms of learning the NBA game," Woodson said. "He's got some sense of what the NBA game's about, but where he struggles a little bit is on the defensive end. He can score the basketball, but we've got to get him knowing rotations in terms of banging and fighting on the low block."

SMITH SIZZLING: After shooting less than 30 percent in three straight games, J.R. Smith's accuracy in three out of his last four games has been close to or higher than 50 percent. He discussed the difference with ESPNNewYork.com on Wednesday.

"I stopped hesitating," he said. "I'm just taking more dribbles out of my game, getting back to if I don't have anything in two dribbles, pass the ball, and if I do, then make it happen. Other than that, just cut down as many dribbles."

Research assistance: Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info

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