On Monday, the Knicks and Nets square off in their final showdown of the regular season. After the Knicks lost the first meeting on Nov. 26, they took two in a row, thanks to Carmelo Anthony's 37 points average in the series. He scored 45 on Dec. 11, which prompted Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo on Sunday to jokingly say the Nets won't be able to contain him well.
"You just gotta try to make him work," he said.
While guarding Melo is by far the biggest key for the Nets, here are three for the Knicks to keep in mind, starting at 3:30 p.m. ET:
1. Get off to a great first quarter. That's what they did Thursday against the Pistons, leading 29-17 after one. But that was the Pistons; this is the Nets, who are now just two games behind the Knicks in the standings. Deron Williams is back to playing like an All-Star, as he's improved his shooting during the Nets' recent 10-2 stretch. And he's getting it done right at the jump, especially by setting the tone with his faster pace and added confidence.
Before Dec. 28, Williams had been averaging 5.6 first-quarter points. But since then, he's now at 7.0. In a win over the Hawks on Friday, he had 13 points in the opening period. The Knicks need to establish their pick and roll and transition defense early on. Obviously having Iman Shumpert back will help.
It could be a shootout in the first quarter between Williams and Anthony, who's tops in the NBA in initial scoring (9.2 points in opening periods). So the early lead will come down to which team is making stops and transition 3-pointers. Both Melo and D-Will can hit them, which has led to their sizzling starts.
2. Who will be the better big man off the bench: Amar'e Stoudemire or Andray Blatche? Once they check in, both teams go to them for scoring in the low post -- and they've been delivering. Blatche (11.3 points per game) is a crafty ball-handler and clever scorer inside (Dream Shake-esque). Stoudemire's finishing touch is still a bit off, but he's getting fouled and going to the line, where he was 11-for-12 against the Pistons.
3. Rebound, rebound, rebound. Speaking of Stoudemire and Blatche, the biggest difference between the two, besides youth and health, of course, is their window cleaning. Blatche crashes the glass better and goes for 6.0 boards a night. Stoudemire averages only 3.1. STAT will likely get matched up with Blatche at times, and he needs to put a body on him to prevent second-chance points.
That goes for all the Knicks. The Nets have been excelling on the glass much more recently. In fact, in their win over the Pacers on Jan. 13, they out-rebounded the best team in the league in that category 47 to 39. Nets starting power forward Reggie Evans has been a problem for opponents lately. This month alone, he has two 20-plus rebounding games. He's coming off one (20 boards) against the Hawks.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.