The 8-16 Nets take on the 8-15 Knicks at Madison Square Garden tonight. The Nets are fresh off a close home loss to the Timberwolves and a game and a half out of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks aren’t ranking much better, and Avery Johnson expects a “playoff atmosphere” at MSG tonight.
Joining Sandy and I in the pregame conversation is Jim Cavan, writer for the Knicks’ ESPN NBA TrueHoop affiliate Knickerblogger.
1. Can the Nets win without an A+ D-Will game?
- Chris Hooker: I’m sure they can, but we haven’t seen it happen yet. Yesterday was the closest game we’ve come to seeing the Nets win without a near-perfect game from their point guard – and a big reason why they lost was because of his crucial turnovers in crunch time. I don’t think the Nets need an A+ D-Will game, per se. But they need a game where he isn’t making mistakes (turnovers) often. They need a game where he can distribute the ball to his shooter(s) as well as make high percentage shots himself. If D-Will puts up a line like 15 points, eight assists and under two turnovers, Morrow hits his threes, Hump is aggressive on the glass and Shawne Williams does anything but not miss, they can win and I wouldn’t say D-Will put up an A+ effort. Unfortunately, when he starts playing badly, others tend to follow suit.
- Sandy Dover: The Nets can win without an A+ D-Will. However, Deron Williams cannot be anything less than a B+, since we’re talking grades. He has to be near the top of his game for the Nets even have a chance to do anything of win worthy, and that’s just for the Knicks. Having said that, an A+ D-Will against a fiery Knicks team is still hard to predict a win for in favor of the Nets.
- Jim Cavan, Knickerblogger: If there’s one thing with which I’ve learned to come to painful grips this past season-and-a-half, it’s that anyone – washed-up, half-injured, overweight, headless – can beat the Knicks on any given night (see: Diaw, Boris). I’d venture to say the Nets can manage a C game from their near peerless point, granting he’s able to put enough pressure on the Knick interior to make finding open shooters an elementary exercise. Like Anthony Morrow, who may or may not be on my fantasy team. Or former Knick Shawne Williams, who you know will be out for vengeance against the team he felt slighted him during the preseason’s brief free agency period. This being the third night of their first back-to-back-to-back of the season, the Knicks might very well be willing to take a play or two off on the defensive end. As long as D-Will can find guys in their spots, there’s no reason why the Nets can’t keep it close and let Johan Petro (37 points on 16-18 shooting) lead them to victory.
2. Are the Knicks’ depth issues solvable?
- Chris Hooker: Yikes. The problem is, the Knicks are pretty limited with what they can do in terms of signing new players, so in that case I don’t think they are solvable until Stat, Melo and Chandler’s contracts run out. The Knicks are incredibly top heavy and to say that D’Antoni needs to play his reserves a few more minutes may not give the Knicks the best chance to win a game. Unless a trade happens or Baron Davis comes back healthy, I think the Knicks are pretty much stuck with what they got.
- Sandy Dover: The Knicks’ depth issues are solvable, but it revolves around Mike D’Antoni opening up his rotation and calling for Amar’e to get more touches in the post. It’s a pretty simple answer that a tight rotation of a sub-par group is going to remain sub-par, and the Knicks need to experiment some with its roster.
- Jim Cavan: *Simultaneously throws up in mouth and cries.* Entering this lockout-shortened and painfully condensed season, most knew that the team’s depth – much of it sacrificed at the Melo alter last March – meant the Knicks weren’t the most ideally constructed team out there. Still, we expected some semblance of growth and improvement from the likes Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan, and Bill Walker – at least enough to assure that our second and third units wouldn’t be a completely disastrous liability. Oops! The Knicks currently boast arguably the worst bench in the league. Making matters worse, the notoriously rotation fickle Mike D’Antoni has until recently basically refused to give Jordan, Jeremy Lin, Renaldo Balkman and Steve Novak anything more than spot or garbage burn. Which will only mean deader and deader legs and higher risk of injury for our core as the team lags and drags into spring. Barring either a) dealing one of our stars for reinforcements, or b) a renaissance from some of the names already mentioned – to say nothing of a Baron Davis return, itself looking dimmer and dimmer as the days and games pass – I don’t see this issue going away any time soon.
3. And the winner is…
- Chris Hooker: Going with the homer pick here, even though I think my fellow contributors will be picking the Knickerbockers. Coming off a disappointing loss at home, the Nets have got to be fired up playing their big bully brother who, really, aren’t much better than New Jersey is. I expect D-Will to put up a lights out game and the boo-parade to set off some anger in Humphries. (I refuse to making Incredible Hump jokes. They are awful.) I also love beating the Knicks more than anything, so a Net win at the Garden would make me incredibly happy.
- Sandy Dover:I believe the Knicks will win, largely because the pressure being built up from all of their losses (and a close loss to Boston the previous night) has made New York insatiable. The Nets are under a similar sort of pressure, but almost seem like they are in some kind of holding period, because of the various injuries and such. The Knicks are out for blood, and I’m not sure the Nets can match their desire at this time.
- Jim Cavan: After days of swirling rumors pointing towards a Super Bowl weekend coaching coup, Mike D’Antoni’s tumultuous Big Apple tenure likely hinges on the outcome of tonight’s contest. The team – Melo and Stat most vocally – say they support their coach 100%. After two hard-fought, bruising losses to the Bulls and Celtics, the Knicks will have to pull deep from the well if they’re to make good on their promise, particularly against a rejuvenated D-Will-led Nets squad. The sad part? Even if the Knicks somehow pull off a victory, D’Antoni’s fate may well have been long since sealed. Whether or not the players believe that is another story. Expect an ugly game chock full of horrendous turnovers, heel-chipping bricks, Kris Humphries-Tyson Chandler grunt-offs, and Mike D’Antoni’s mustache and eyebrows turning a shade of white never before seen. Knicks 86, Nets 80.