It seems the New Jersey Nets had a bit of a point to prove to one Carmelo Anthony.
Although they did not admit to anything of this nature, there's little doubt they took note of Anthony's assertion that New Jersey's supporting cast was simply not good enough for him.
Professionals with a great deal of pride do not take kindly to such claims, and given coach Avery Johnson's authoritative and hard-headed nature, it is highly likely the Denver star's feelings about this team were mentioned prior to tip-off.
It's also hard to see it as a coincidence that the Nets played their best game of the season, a 115-99 victory, against this particular opponent, especially when considering the team's biggest names were the ones to step up the most.
Devin Harris, whose name was brought up in just about every trade rumor, set a career-high in assists with 18.
New Jersey started the game incredibly strong, scoring 63 points in the first half and shooting 63 percent in the opening 24 minutes. When Denver fought back and made the game close in the fourth, Harris, who struggled with his shot for most of the night, connected on three of his five shot attempts, including some of very high difficulty that helped put the game away.
The point guard finished with just nine points, but his assists, defense and overall ability to set the tone in this game were far more valuable than his point total.
Brook Lopez also came up huge once again, hitting over 60 percent of his shots and totaling 27 points.
Who really cares about the rebounds if he can do this all season?
Continuing his hot play since returning to the lineup, Anthony Morrow put in 18 of his own. He drilled all six of his shot attempts, including four from downtown.
Even Travis Outlaw, who has been an extreme disappointment this year, had his best performance of the season, scoring 21 points while grabbing four rebounds and playing some very solid defense.
And Kris Humphries, who had looked to be on the decline recently, scored 15 points—his nine rebounds nearly netting him yet another double-double.
For his part, Anthony scored 37, showing exactly why he's so highly coveted. The Nets were content to let him get his, while making a concerted effort to slow down the rest of Denver's weapons.
Nuggets Chauncey Billups and Nene Hilario both scored at least 16 points, but everyone aside from Anthony was largely inconsistent—a tribute to the Nets' defensive intensity.
Consider this as well: New Jersey took the lead with about eight minutes remaining in the first quarter and never again trailed. In fact, the Nuggets weren't able to even tie the score after that point.
While it's never very wise to read too much into a single W, there's no overlooking the fact that this was a huge win for the Nets. They made their point about being a better team than their record suggests, and, although his admitting of such is improbable, must have earned the respect of Mr. Anthony.
New Jersey is proving to be a very tough team to beat at home. They've won five of their last six games at the Prudential Center and generally play a much more inspired brand of basketball in that arena.
They'll have to, at some point, learn to win on the road, but let's take it one step at a time here. Establishing a home-court advantage is the first hurdle to climb in becoming a good team, and the Nets appear to have turned that corner.
They play just one road game this week, so a winning record in this four-game stretch is absolutely possible and would be yet another indication that the team is on the up and up.
The Nets will have a day to savor this one before returning to action Wednesday night when they host the Philadelphia 76ers.
They've had a habit of playing to the level of their competition and will need to avoid a letdown in that contest.