Brooklyn, Manhattan Face Off Once Again — PREVIEW

Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith
Jason Kidd (AP)
Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith
The Nets & Knicks face off once again. (AP)

The NBA franchises that reside in Brooklyn and Manhattan fight for back pages & star treatment as much as they do on the basketball court, and today game is an added foray into that narrative structure: the Brooklyn Nets take on the cross-bridge rival New York Knicks today at 2:30 P.M. EST, in a game that fights for playoff position that neither team wanted three months ago.

Though this game often gets the “Bridge Battle” moniker, the “Banged-Up Battle” might be more appropriate: Metta World Peace, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kenyon Martin will all sit in the Knicks frontcourt. Brook Lopez is lost for the season with a broken foot for Brooklyn. Pablo Prigioni and Deron Williams will both probably play, but they’re returning from various injuries and treatments. The Nets as a whole flew from London just a few days ago.

Though these aren’t two teams at full strength, they’re both teams that have clicked into place a bit in 2014. The Nets stumbled into success with a lineup featuring two point guards before Williams’s injury, then continued its stretch behind the heady play of Shaun Livingston and the devastating impact of Kevin Garnett as a center. The Knicks had a brief stretch of wild success to open the 2014 calendar year, but have regressed once again, raising questions with their lineup and bench.

The Nets have a slight edge in momentum. Though both teams enjoyed some success after the ball dropped to close 2013, the Nets have sustained it throughout, losing just one game to the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back-to-back following a double-overtime victory against the defending champion Miami Heat. It was a schedule loss, if there ever was one.

After Toronto’s surprising loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday afternoon, the 16-22 Nets sit just 3.5 games behind the division-leading Raptors, in sole possession of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re and two games ahead of the 15-25 Knicks, who sit in tenth place.

This is one game of 82, just like any other in the regular season, but Nets-Knicks always has a special flavor. I’m sure the Nets haven’t forgotten the 113-83 beatdown the Knicks handed to them on their home court December 5th, and if they have, the fans certainly haven’t. But the Nets missed three crucial pieces that night: the point guard Williams, backup do-it-all Andrei Kirilenko, and small forward Paul Pierce, who has made enough big shots against the Knicks that a search for “Paul Pierce Knicks” on YouTube returns over 58,000 results. He loves these moments, and he had to watch from the sideline on December 5th. He, Kirilenko, and Williams are projected to suit up.

The Knicks have one rotation player in the lineup who didn’t play on December 5th: center Tyson Chandler, a potential game-changer both on defense and in pick-and-rolls.

This is an opportunity for the Nets to shut down Madison Square Garden once again, which they haven’t done since Joe Johnson nailed a game-winning shot against the Knicks last season.

In the following, you’ll see a position-by-position preview (and edge) of each matchup, plus a look at the coaches, each team’s X-Factor, and some predictions. One caveat: the Nets and Knicks both have some lineup changes possible, and these are just the projected starting 5 from The Brooklyn Game. It’s entirely possible that we see some tinkering on both sides.

Tipoff at 2:30 P.M. EST.