Let's do our best to pretend tonight isn't important, yes?
After yet another stupefying loss -- their third consecutive loss that ended within one possession -- the 13-11 Brooklyn Nets travel across the bridge (or, through the Lincoln Tunnel, since outside of Manhattanite Deron Williams, they all live in New Jersey) to take on the humming, Eastern Conference-leading, 18-6 New York Knicks in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden.
These two teams have played twice before, both at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and both games were of delicious basketball affair; the first a 96-89 overtime victory for Brooklyn, the second a 100-97 regulation victory for New York that Brooklyn had two chances to tie in the waning seconds.
Joining me to look at tonight's game is Seth Rosenthal, site runner and animal lover behind Posting and Toasting, New York Knicks SB Nation site and perhaps the greatest blog ever. For an alternate perspective on tonight's game, there are few better to read than Seth and his merry band of SBNationites.
The 1-on-1 thoroughfare follows, with a nice wrinkle: at the end, Seth & I both offer a prediction on tonight's contest. I think.
Seth Rosenthal on the New York Knicks
Devin: Seriously, how has Carmelo been this good? Is this something he can sustain?
Seth: Ya know, I don't think he's doing anything that unusual. For all the grumbling about his approach to the game last season, the guy just wasn't making open jump shots. Melo was coming off elbow surgery and playing through a groin injury, and I think all that contributed to his shooting poorly and frustrating himself into some bad habits. This year, he's healthy (well, until recently) and making his open shots. Teams have to double him and he's done a lovely job passing out of those doubles. And on top of that, Melo's making an effort on defense, hustling, and rebounding pretty well, particularly on his own misses. Basically, I think he's doing normal Melo stuff but succeeding at that stuff at a much higher rate than he was before about March of last season.
Devin: The teams split the series in Barclays Center, with both games going down to the final possession in regulation and one going to overtime. Do you envision another close game at MSG?
Seth: Yeah, I do. I don't know what it is about these teams, but they've demonstrated a remarkable ability in the first two games to look completely awful for long stretches at a time, trade massive runs, then somehow end up in a dead heat down the stretch.
Devin: What is a Chris Copeland, how did he score 29 points against Houston, and should the Nets fear him off the Knicks' bench (or starting, if Carmelo is out again)?
Seth: A Chris Copeland is a scraggy, long-locked, 28 year-old rookie who got plucked out of the Belgian leagues to join the Knicks. I don't know if the Nets have to fear him, per se; if he matches up with someone like Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries, he's gonna get pushed around a lot. That said, the dude scores almost as effectively as he wears a baby backpack, and while filling in as the starting four, he's done a remarkable job replicating Melo's efficient shooting in isolation and off the catch.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Seth: Brook Lopez didn't play in the last Knicks-Nets game. He's since returned and put up some solid (normal) numbers. All good there?
Devin: I'm not sure I'd say "all good." He's back, and played his first game without a minutes restriction last night, but didn't look altogether comfortable outside of accidental circus shots. On the second night of a back-to-back, it's possible (though not likely) that Lopez is back on a minutes restriction, depending on how he recovers during the day today. When Lopez was fully healthy, the team leaned on him hard in the first quarter to get the offense going, and as tonight's just his second game back without restrictions, it's hard to gauge just how effective he'll be.
Seth: Deron Williams hasn't been as great as Deron Williams is supposed to be. Some of this must be his approach--and Deron himself expressed some frustration with the system, so there's that-- but how much would you attribute to injury? I noted in my answers for you that some injury struggles might go overlooked in people's appraisal of Melo's rough '11-'12 season and I wonder if Williams is in a similar situation.
Devin: The best answer I can give to you is "a bit." The reasons given for Williams' struggles are so scattershot that it's almost impossible to tell at this point what's patient zero. Is it his wrist, hip, leg injuries? Sure. Is it a mental block? Seemingly. Is it a lack of comfort with Avery Johnson's iso-heavy offense? If you hear Deron tell it, yeah. We've been kind of waiting in limbo for the last three years to watch his shot "click," and it just hasn't yet. My guess is it's more a little bit of everything.
Seth: It seems like the Nets' bench production has fallen off considerably since the start of the year, and now Jerry Stackhouse is hurt. Am I overstating that drop-off, or has the bench gone from quite good to kinda weak? Either way, what's up with the bench?
Devin: It all starts with Lopez's injury. Once Lopez went down, Andray Blatche filled in his place in exquisitely absurd form, so well that there was nary a dropoff in the starting lineup. But with Blatche in the starting unit, that forced the Nets to go small with Evans & Humphries -- two decent but overlapping players -- as the bigs off the bench, and the team noticeably struggled without that lineup. Jerry Stackhouse's absence has hurt, but now that Lopez is hopefully back in the starting rotation for good, the bench should see a noticeable uptick in effectiveness again.
Seth: I'd give the Knicks a slight win at home-- say... 105-102-- if Melo is totally himself. I don't think he'll play, though, and even if he does, it's hard to imagine him performing at full Melo-ness on a bad ankle, so let's flip that. 105-102, Nets.
Devin: I see Seth picked the Nets after picking the Knicks in the classic reverse-reverse-reverse jinx move. I SHALL BEST YOU! As much as I'd love to see the Nets put it together once and for all tonight, on the second night of a back-to-back after a demoralizing loss, I imagine the Nets will press too hard and force a lot of ill-advised shots.
Like you, I don't expect a blowout, but I think the Knicks win a semi-close one. My score guess: 102-95.