Knicks-Nets: What to Watch For

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The Knicks travel back to the Barclays Center tonight to take on the Nets in the second meeting of the NBA’s newest rivalry. The Nets won the first chapter of this saga in overtime, 96-89, back on Nov. 25 in Brooklyn where the Knicks were without Jason Kidd, but both teams have gone in different directions since that game. The Knickerbockers have won six of seven since the road loss to the Nets, while the Nets have dropped four straight games including three in a row at home. Tonight marks the end of a four-game home stand for the Nets, and the Knicks would love nothing more than to give them an 0-4 home trip at the Barclays.

Brook Lopez has missed the last five games for the Nets and  will miss tonight’s game as well. Lopez killed the Knicks in the first meeting with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. On the flip side, Tyson Chandler has been on a tear recently, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and shooting over 75% from the field in his last 10 contests. He torched the Nets for 28 and 10 in the last meeting, and with no Lopez tonight, Chandler could be due for a huge game. He and Felton have developed a great chemistry and the high pick and roll, and even Felton’s drives to the basket that go for misses turn into assists for Chandler.

The Knicks and Nets currently sit atop the Atlantic Division standings, with the Knicks holding a 3 ½ game lead and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. It is the latest the Knicks have been first in the conference since the 1994 season when they went to the Finals. With the rest of the division struggling a bit it’s a great chance for the Knicks to really put a stranglehold on it. I still think the Knicks and Nets are the two best teams in the division, and tonight is a statement game for both teams.

The impact of this game goes deeper than just the standings, for obvious reasons. All clichés aside, the Nets want to be the dominant team in New York, and are still the only Eastern Conference team to beat the Knicks. A rivalry has started and the Knicks need to claim their first victory in the battle of New York.

Heres what to watch for:

Rebounding… Again: The last time these two teams got together the Nets really beat the Nets up on the glass for the first three quarters, and even without Lopez in there tonight, the Nets have a formidable front line. Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries both average over eight rebounds per game, and Evans in particular gave the Knicks fits in the game back in November. Rasheed Wallace is set to return tonight, and should help sure up the rebounding, which will be a major factor.

Keep Protecting the Ball: The Knicks have been the best team in the league at not turning the ball over. They commit a turnover on only 10.5% of their possessions according to HoopData.com, and allow just 12.1 points off turnovers a game. On Sunday night they only committed nine turnovers against a Nugget team that likes to force turnovers and get out in transition. They forced 16 turnovers, and if they continue to win the turnover battle they should be in a good position to win.

Free-Throw Shooting: The Knicks sit in the middle of the pack in the league in free-throw shooting at 76%. We have seen Carmelo Anthony miss a bunch of free-throws, including six last game. With a team that makes the most three-pointers and at the highest rate, you would think they would be a solid free-throw shooting team. Great teams take advantage of free points, and the Knicks need to start capitalizing on the amount of free-throws they get a game.

This should be fun. The second game of the newest NBA rivalry, and a good opportunity as any for the Knicks to make a statement of their supremacy in New York, as well as in the Atlantic Division.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bcoles1029