EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- For the first time in a while, the New Jersey Nets played with poise down the stretch.
Kenyon Martin collected 24 points and 10 rebounds and Kerry Kittles added 23 points as the Nets defeated the New York Knicks for the eighth time in nine meetings, 101-95, in the front end of a home-and-home series.
Richard Jefferson added 18 points and Jason Kidd 17, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Nets, who remained one-half game in front of Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead after the 76ers defeated Indiana.
After New York took a 95-94 lead on a jumper by Charlie Ward with 6:03 remaining, Kittles countered with a 3-pointer with 5:44 left to start a 14-2 run that gave New Jersey the lead for good.
"It was back and forth until Kerry's three, which was a big shot for us," Kidd said. "They were up one until the shot, and we just followed suit. We got stops and K-Mart comes up with a steal, gets a layup and we just go from there. Our defense led to easy baskets, which separate ourselves from them."
"I think the last six minutes of the game was the deciding factor," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "We defended, we scored and we stayed aggressive. That was the bottom line."
Martin scored six points during the burst, which ended on a free throw by Kidd with 2:49 left that made it 98-87. The Knicks got no closer than the final score.
"(Martin) pretty much dominated the game," Scott said. "He hit every big shot, he got big rebounds and eventually he went to the hoop. He was all over the place."
"That's the way we need to play," Martin said. "If we continue to do this for the last 11 games, I think our chances (of winning the Eastern Conference) are pretty good."
The Nets are 2 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the Eastern Conference standings.
New Jersey, which is just 9-13 since the All-Star break, improved to 16-0 when connecting on at least half its shots. The Nets shot 51 percent (37-of-72) and limited the Knicks to 43 percent (37-of-86).
"We were just trying to get over a hump that we have been fighting for some games," Kittles said. "Down the stretch, we were trying to be more focused and just try to challenge those guys. We were able to get some stops and that is what helped us."
Latrell Sprewell scored 24 points and Allan Houston added 19 - none in the fourth quarter and just six after halftime - for the Knicks, who entered the contest two games behind Milwaukee for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
"It's really frustrating because we were up one and we forced them to take a timeout," Sprewell said. "Then they were feeling good about things and we didn't execute at all. They forced turnovers and it was really frustrating. We were there. Were we at our best, but at the same time, we were at our worst, and that was the disappointing thing."
The Nets scored 27 points off 14 Knicks turnovers, while New York scored 18 off 16 New Jersey giveaways.
"What you can't do against this team is give them opportunities through turnovers," Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "We talked about that before the game. They played a lot of the passing lanes. You just have to make sure that you take care of the basketball and get a good shot every time."
The Nets closed the second quarter on a 24-7 run to take a 52-44 lead into the second half. But thanks to a 14-0 run midway through the third quarter, the Knicks evened the score, 74-74, entering the final 12 minutes.
"Our concentration level in the fourth was a lot higher than it has been," Kidd said. "This game was big for both teams. We were able to get some easy baskets in the fourth, which helped us."
The Knicks host the Nets on Friday.
"We know how to beat them, we just have to consistently do those things," Chaney said. "I think our guys will learn from this game and hopefully we will benefit from it at home on Friday."
"This was very important for both teams," Kittles said. "We knew the competition was going to be there tonight, and we also knew it was going to be competitive as well on Friday night."