I’ll be honest. In the lead up to the season, I was dreading the first Knicks-Nets match-up on opening night. It wasn’t because I’m in any way afraid for the Knicks to play the Nets, but because of the apocalyptic nature of the media coverage that was sure to envelop the game. I was sure that, no matter what, the New York media would declare the winner of the game a serious challenger to the Heat’s throne (which would be slightly south of ridiculous) and the loser dead in the water and screwed for eternity (just as ridiculous).
Now that game one of the new Knicks-Nets rivalry is happening a little less than a month into the season, I feel much better about it, and not just because the Knicks have mostly played very good basketball so far. Because it’s not the opener, it can be treated as “just another game,” which is really how it always should have been treated anyway. Sure, there will probably still be hyperbole, but it won’t be nearly as extreme.
It helps that both the Knicks and Nets are coming into the game playing well, so neither team can credibly be declared dead in the water if they lose.
The Knicks are 9-3. They currently lead the league in offensive efficiency despite the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak’s poor shooting, Tyson Chandler’s general non-Chandlerness thus far and Rasheed chucking 3s at a positively BYU-era-Fredetteian rate. Win or lose, this team looks good. The media can’t just be like, “Oh man, the Knicks are in so much trouble.” It’s not true.
The Nets are 8-4. The offense has been as good as advertised, and the defense hasn’t been atrocious. Win or lose, this team looks good. The media can’t just be like, “Same old Nets.” It’s not true.
So we’ve got that going for us.
Plus, the game is on TNT. That means we get Ernie, Kenny, Chuck and hopefully C-Webb (seriously, #FREECWEBB) instead of Shaq talking about our teams on the pre-game show. That should be sufficiently awesome.
Let’s talk about the actual game, though. I expect a slow-paced affair. Both the Knicks and Nets have preferred to slow it down thus far, and with neither team trying to push the pace much, it should stay that way.
When the Knicks have been able to control the tempo and keep the game slow, they’ve been able to grind teams into submission through ball control and smothering defense. It’s when they’ve let the other team control the flow of the game, get the Knicks running, that they’ve lost both their composure and the game. Their rotations aren’t as crisp, their passes get sloppier and they lose shooters on the perimeter.
Dallas, Memphis and Houston all imposed their will on the game, getting up and down the court and exposing the Knicks’ general lack of speed, awful transition defense, small guards that don’t close out well on shooters, and in the case of Memphis and Dallas, stamina on the second night of a back-to-back. The Knicks have been the slowest-paced team in the league thus far according to HoopData, so though the Nets like to slow it down as well, it may be to their advantage to try to speed things up.
Deron Williams should be able to have a strong game against Raymond Felton. Felton’s been mostly good defensively so far, but the guys he’s struggled against (Tony Parker, Mike Conley, Darren Collison) all excel as pick-and-roll players who like to get into the lane. Williams fits that bill. Whether Felton can put similar pressure on Williams in pick-and-rolls will decide a lot of whether the Knicks can come away with a win. He’s shooting well from 3 so far, but his best games have generally come when he’s attacked the rim on pick-and-rolls rather than settling for jumpers when the defense goes under screens.
Carmelo should (and I say should because it hasn’t been the case when they’ve faced off so far) have a strong offensive game against Kris Humphries. His face-up post game should lead to easy baskets on drives to the basket. He’s shooting the lights out the last couple of games, but again his best moments have come when he’s gone to the rim rather than settling for a lot of jumpers. He’s been doing a lot of complaining to the officials about fouls in the past few, and that has just got to stop.
The Tyson Chandler-Brook Lopez match-up should be interesting. Tyson’s defense hasn’t been nearly as strong this season as last, and he’s not getting the ball all that much on offense. This would be a good game to get him involved, as Lopez’s pick- and-roll defense, though somewhat improved, is still nowhere near good. Strong shooting bigs that draw Chandler out of the lane tend to give him more trouble than any other type of player, and Lopez fits that bill.
Let’s see. What else?
The Knicks have let their last two opponents get far too many shots at the rim, so they need to concentrate on cutting off Williams and Joe Johnson on dribble penetration. The Nets have been a much stronger rebounding team than the Knicks, so that’s something to look out for too.
Both teams take a lot of 3s (as a percentage of attempts), so that could be a deciding factor in the game.
If the Knicks can keep the game slow, force Brooklyn into turnovers, and cut off penetration better than they have in their last few games, they should take it down. If they can’t do any of that, or if they let the Nets dominate the boards, they’ll lose.
I expect a tough, hard-fought battle. I expect it to get a little chippy. And honestly, I still expect the New York media to overreact.