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The Garden fans chanted "We want Nate" in the second quarter when the Knicks were behind. They chanted "We want Nate" in the fourth quarter when they were comfortably ahead.

Confused? Perhaps so are the fans who don't know what to make of this winning surge by their Knicks that has coincided with Nate Robinson's banishment.

Rallying from a 13-point deficit in the first half, the Knicks avoided the embarrassment of losing to the 1-19 Nets , taking them out 106-97 in a matinee behind surging Al Harrington's 26 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.

Even Robinson couldn't argue yesterday with "Nate-Gate" now in day five.

"I wouldn't change anything as well," Robinson said. "We're winning."

Winning, indeed. David Lee was a monster, with 24 points (12-of-18 shooting) and nine boards, and Larry Hughes was sensational at both guard spots, eating up Robinson's minutes and starting the second half.

Hughes bagged 25 points, had four assists, made 14 of 17 free throws and was excellent defensively. The Knicks shot 34 free throws to the Nets' 14.

After winning three of their last four games to move to 6-15, coach Mike D'Antoni was even caught using the "P-word" for the first time since preseason.

"If we want to make the playoffs," D'Antoni said, "and I know we have a long way to go, our defense has to get way better."

Meanwhile, Nets interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe, who took a cab from his Upper West Side pad for the game, suffered his first coaching loss after the Nets snapped their NBA-record 0-18 start Friday.

The Knicks are playing better defense and smarter since Robinson's role has been reduced to zero. The Knicks held the Nets to 36 points in the second half.

The Knicks' revival began last Tuesday when they routed the Suns and Robinson played just 10 minutes, mostly in garbage time. That prompted D'Antoni to not play Robinson in Orlando, Atlanta and yesterday - and they have won two of three. In fact, in all their wins this season, Robinson has played either a very tiny role or not played.

Asked about the Robinson chants, D'Antoni seemed angered and said bluntly, "It's not going to change anything."

Danilo Gallinari returned yesterday after a one-game absence with a sore forearm, but D'Antoni kept Harrington in the starting lineup. It will be tough to remove Harrington, and Gallinari, who took just six shots in a reserve role, may be back to the bench for good.

"There's no reason to change things up if things are going well," D'Antoni said.

The Knicks fell behind 13 in the second quarter, lax on defense in allowing Brook Lopez, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Devin Harris to shoot 18 of 26 in the half. The Nets led 61-53 at intermission.

"The big thing I was saying to the guys [at halftime] is we can't lose to the Nets ," Harrington said. "No disrespect to them. If we want to start taking steps in the right direction, we have to win games versus teams like this."

In the third, the Knicks down 63-56 with 8:36 left, the fans started their first "We want Nate" chant. The Knicks rallied behind it, outscoring the Nets 26-11 to finish the quarter and taking a 86-79 lead into the fourth.

"Give the Knicks credit - their defense stepped up and they put a lot of pressure on us offensively," Vandeweghe said. "This is a good team playing well."

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Added: December 8, 2009


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