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Renewed defensive effort leading Brooklyn Nets to top

Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks attempts

Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks attempts a shot against Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets. (Nov. 26, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Nets' ascent to the top of the Atlantic Division standings was sudden, almost like their newfound defensive prowess.

When they were foundering in the second half of games the past few weeks, their defensive hunger was being questioned and some veterans admitted the collective effort just wasn't there. But Avery Johnson's crew has started to get it done defensively, the latest example coming in Monday's 96-89 victory over the Knicks at Barclays Center.

"We are buying into Avery's principles and we are playing defense," Gerald Wallace said. "We are more concentrating on defense. If you look around our locker room, we've got guys that can score any time, any day. But we've got to defend.

"If we want to be one of the top teams, we've got to stop the other teams from scoring. That's one of our main focuses right now, and the team is starting to understand that."

In each of the Nets' past three games leading into Wednesday night's matchup with the Celtics (8-6), their opponents' shooting percentage has dipped in the second half. The Nets have held the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Knicks to 33.6 percent (38-for-113) after halftime, showing they're finally executing the scheme.

"We just pay attention to detail," Deron Williams said. "We have game plans going into every game. On certain players, we play certain ways and I think we kind of focus at the end of games. We know we have to get stops, that's first and foremost, and we just kind of buckle down and do that."

Perhaps no one is figuring that out more than Brook Lopez. The 7-footer has taken flak for his lack of aggressiveness and laid-back mentality, but he's trying to change that perception. Through 13 games, he has 35 blocks and his average of 2.69 ranks fourth in the league.

"It's just really on me to be there for my teammates," Lopez said. "If they get beat, I just want to be there in the lane to block a shot, alter a shot or get a hard foul . . . It's possible it makes them think twice. Then they know they are not going to walk in and get an easy layup."

Having Wallace on the court consistently the last three games after missing seven games with an ankle injury surely helps, too. He's the Nets' most versatile defender.

"I'm just starting to try to get back to myself," Wallace said. "I felt good coming into this season. I had a great training camp and then I had to sit back with the ankle injury that put me out for 2 1/2 weeks. So I kind of lost my legs, my wind, my whole rhythm going into the season and I've been struggling, trying to get that back.

"[Monday], I just felt good. I wanted to be more aggressive and stay on attack."

Notes & quotes: In a wide-ranging interview on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, on Tuesday, Andray Blatche scoffed at the notion he wasn't a good teammate during his seven seasons with the Wizards. "For them to say, 'Oh, he's a bad teammate. He's a cancer in the locker room. He's this and that.' All that was a bunch of lies, a bunch of lies. That's what really made me mad. That showed me [that] they tried to end me."

New York Sports