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.
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Well it’s time to redeem myself in this post. The last time I wrote about the matchup between Raymond Felton and Jeremy Lin and how Felton was going to outplay the former Knick point guard. Turns out I was wrong, completely wrong, as the Knicks didn’t even bother showing up in a 131-103 route to the Rockets. So here is another attempt at writing about a matchup, this one about the big men down low (pause..) for both the Knicks and Nets, Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez.
One of the major storylines for the Nets this season has been the play of Lopez. He leads them in scoring with 19 points per game and shooting 55% from the field, and has shown a more aggressive side to his game that has been lacking in his young career. Brook can be a dynamic center because of his ability to step out and hit the long jumper, making Chandler’s defense tonight that much more important.
Chandler won the DPOY award last year in deserving fashion, but so far this season hasn’t been the defensive force Knick fans have become accustomed to seeing. He has been nagged by illness and some injuries early on, and the Knicks need him to get back to being the anchor of that defense going forward. Early on, defense was the Knicks catalyst, but lately it has been their Achilles heel. They gave up 65 second-half points to the Mavericks last Wednesday, 131 points to the Rockets on Friday, and then despite winning yesterday, allowed the lowly Pistons to drop 100 at the Garden. The Knicks need to get back to playing the defense that allowed them to jump out to an undefeated start, especially against a Nets team that can really score.
One of the keys to tonight’s game will be the pick and roll defense of the Knicks. As Taylor pointed out in the game preview, the Knicks have allowed 1.08 points per possession to roll men, and the Nets run both Humphries and Lopez off pick and rolls. In order for the Knicks to be successful tonight, Chandler, Sheed and Camby will all have to do a good job of chasing Williams out of the paint and getting back to defend the big men. Easier said than done obviously as the Nets have some formidable scorers down low, but that is why Chandler needs to play a key role tonight.
It should be a great game tonight, and despite whatever hatred you may have for the other team, it’s good to have two relevant basketball teams in New York…But who am I kidding, I dislike the Nets very much, and hope the Knicks beat them down tonight.
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