Knicks vs. Nets Preview
And so it begins, the first of four games this year between the local rivals as the Knicks visit the swamp. It’s always a bit strange to watch these games from my perspective, as when I became a basketball fan way back in the early 90’s (Blazers/Bulls was the first finals I really watched) it was the first team sport I became a fan of and I’m not sure I really understood the rules of fandom yet. Like: you only get one team; and you REALLY only get to root for one half of a rivalry. At 10 years old those nuances were lost on me; both teams were on television and I loved to watch basketball, so I dove in headfirst and found myself simultaneously thrilling to the Knicks’ quest to unseat the Bulls and bemoaning the horror of The Derrick Coleman Era which was enough to induce severe whiplash, let me tell you. At this point as a fan I’ve seen good and bad times with both teams and really couldn’t pick a favorite at all so my rooting interest tomorrow is entirely for a fun game with no injuries. Which is, I expect, what we’ll get especially since this is one of the few times in the history of these two teams when they’ve been at a roughly similar level of quality. Here’s a selection of bullet points on what to watch out for tonight:
- Defense: will be notable by its absence. The Knicks kinda suck at it (107.1 DeEff, 25th in the league), but the Nets REALLY suck at it (108.0, 27th), so this one is likely to be a shootout. Pace-wise the Knicks are first in the league while the Nets are only 22nd, so while high-scoring this won’t be the Golden State game; don’t expect records to fall at any rate.
- Rebounding. The Nets are middling (50.1 Rebound Rate, 12th; 16th Offensive RR, 11th Defensive RR), while the Knicks are…not (47.0 RR, 30th; 28th ORR, 21st DRR), and this may end up being the difference especially since the Nets are getting Josh Boone back for this one (7 games played this year due to a leg problem), whose 17.3 RR places him 14th in the league among centers. I doubt he’ll start as he’s coming back from injury, but the Nets will have depth on the boards.
- Point guard is the key matchup for this one. Chris Duhon has been playing a million minutes this year and doing pretty well overall (13.54 PER, 39th among PGs, best of his career), especially so when you factor in his defense which is generally above average. That will be the most important facet of his game in this one, as Devin Harris is having a monstrous, ridiculous season so far (27.61 PER, 3rd among PGs, best of his career as well) and is far and away the key player for the Nets at this point. Everything in their offense starts with him and Vince Carter, and if you can’t stop their penetration they will run you over. The Nets are 5th in the league on offense this year (107.4 OEff); if Duhon can’t keep Harris somewhat under control, the Knicks are just screwed. I think he’ll do alright at the start, since Harris is devastating primarily for his quickness and I think Duhon is quick enough to at least not get blown by over and over. This could change as the game wears on since Duhon’s going to be sprinting all over for 40+ minutes, and there’s no way Anthony Roberson is going to be asked to guard the Blur. If Harris can get Duhon into foul trouble, and he’s an expert at that, it’s all over. More on the Nets’ offense below.
- When the Knicks have the ball the major question is how the Nets’ bigs will handle the pick and roll. The Knicks shoot a million three pointers, but a lot of those come off of plays which begin with Duhon and Lee running the two man game and Duhon making the decision about when and where to move the ball. Brook Lopez has pretty good mobility for a giant stick insect of a man and Josh Boone usually does as well when his ankles work, so the Knicks may be in trouble in that respect. If this part of their attack is stymied, expect to see a lot of Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler off-balance heaves. Those are No Buys, and probably mean a Knicks loss.
- When the Nets have the ball, the Knicks are going to have to hope that Duhon and Q Rich can handle Harris and Carter to some degree, because the offense all runs through them. They break down the perimeter contain and either score themselves and draw a foul as often as not (11.2 free throw attempts per game for Harris, 6.0 for Carter), or else kick the ball out to one of the Nets’ many three point shooters. Jersey are 5th in the league in 3 point attempts at 20.4 a game, but 6th in percentage at 39%; the Knicks, while they lead in attempts, are only 12th in efficiency at 37%. The Knicks’ bigs are going to have to hang with Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Jarvis Hayes and (if he plays) Bobby Simmons on the outside, because if they collapse too often or get caught ball-watching the Nets will shoot them full of holes. Keep a close eye on Carter and who defends him- he’s having a strong bounce-back year (22.80 PER) and has been using his passing very well, playing almost as a second point at times for the Nets. Duhon on Harris is probably a kinder match for the Knicks than Richardson on Carter, even given how good Harris has become.
- Turnovers. The Nets make the 4th fewest (13.2 PG), the Knicks are mired in 20th (15.6). They’re actually an almost deadlocked 20th and 21st in causing opponent turnovers.
- A final interesting wrinkle: the Nets are 29th in the league in allowed opponent 3 point%, giving up 41%; the Knicks are 3rd at 32%.
I expect this to be a fun, up-tempo game with a lot of scoring and not a lot of defense, which will be determined largely on whether the Knicks can rebound from last night’s terrible shooting woes. If the Knicks have an average shooting night the Nets probably win as the more talented team; a poor shooting night could make this a blowout. But an above-average shooting night could easily see the Knicks clip the Nets on the road and take advantage of their abhorrent defense. Given the back-to-back with travel schedule for the Knicks and the recent form of the Nets I expect the home side to hold serve in this one, probably with something like a 115-108 final score. Should be fun!
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