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The red-hot Nets , winners of one straight, hope to make it two in a row and move to within 16 games of .500 today against the streaking Knicks, who have won two of three games.

Face it, you have to hype the area NBA teams somehow. Sure beats, "Two teams with six combined wins in 39 total games, meet at the Garden . . ."

The Nets , though, insist they are a new team. With interim Kiki Vandeweghe taking over and issuing mandates of keeping it simple, having fun and offensive movement, the Nets broke the longest losing streak ever to start a NBA season, 18 defeats, Friday in the Meadowlands against the Bobcats, who have been placed on suicide watch.

"It's nothing that I did. It's them. They enjoy playing Basketball. Honestly, sometimes you forget that stuff," said Vandeweghe, who will be coaching where he once played for four seasons and against the team he grew up idolizing. "It's about playing the way we would like to play and improving every day."

The Knicks, who have shown real life lately by beating the Suns at home and the Hawks in Atlanta, realize they may be seeing different animals than the gang they clubbed in New Jersey on Nov. 21.

"They've got their players back and they've got a little bit of renewed energy and confidence," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They could be a pretty good team once their talent is all healthy."

For the Nets , whose health sabotaged Lawrence Frank, the bodies are returning. Courtney Lee, in his first start since Nov. 6, scored a career high 27 Friday.

Lee, who hit a trio 3-pointers - he had six in 11 previous games - admitted Vandeweghe helped him with mechanics. But one factor overrode all.

"I was feeling like I'm in game shape again, and I have my rhythm back," said Lee, who missed seven games with a groin strain, then came off the bench for five. "I was able to be aggressive and attack the basket, knocking down 3s."

It was more than Lee, of course. Devin Harris is getting back into shape. They may (probably won't) have Yi Jianlian today. Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie returned. So Friday, they played fairly whole. And they played with passion and emotion, factors they even called out themselves about in recent weeks.

"Everyone finally just got tired of getting kicked around and teams just coming in here thinking they could get an easy win," said Josh Boone, who played the four with muscle and passion and put several Bobcats on their butts with hard, but clean, fouls.

"Guys got tired of people scoring in the paint," said Harris (the Nuggets racked up 60 paint points 11 days ago). "Our bigs did the necessary things. . . . You want to win too much and sometimes you're too tight."

Well, 18 losses can do that.

*** D'Antoni said he expects Danilo Gallinari to play, despite him sitting Friday and skipping practice yesterday with sore forearm.

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Added: December 9, 2009


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