By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Nets | Barclays Center
When: Thursday | 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (3-13): Despite the Knicks' struggles to start the season, they remain only three games out of the Atlantic Division lead. With tonight being their first game against a divisional opponent this season, they know there is plenty of time to make up ground. Coach Mike Woodson has lamented the team's dip in 3-point shooting and inability to close out games as causes for the slow start, and slight improvements in both areas could go a long way toward filling the win column. Carmelo Anthony summed up the entire team's sentiments heading into tonight's game after ysterday's practice: "We are playing Brooklyn in their arena, one of our rivals, and we want to win."
Brooklyn (5-13): The Nets entered the season with sky-high expectations and have struggled to live up to them through 18 games under head coach Jason Kidd. Franchise cornerstones Brook Lopez and Deron Williams have missed 16 combined games with injuries, and while new additions Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce had been mostly healthy, they've both been largely ineffective. Now Pierce is out 2-4 weeks with a broken right hand. Kidd, who spent last season playing for the Knicks, has had a rocky start to his coaching career, suffering not only the losing, but embarrassing incidents such as the $50K fine for intentionally spilling a soda on the court to force a timeout in a recent game.
The Numbers Game
A tweet from yours truly during Sunday's game against New Orleans to sum up the Knicks' identity concerns from 3-point land this season, compared to last year:
#Knicks set a season high w/ 13 3's tonight. Have made 12+ 3 times in 13 games this year (18.8%). Made 12+ 34 times last year (41.4%).— charlie widdoes (@charliewiddoes) December 2, 2013
Matchup to Watch
Andrea Bargnani vs. Brook Lopez
It's becoming clear that, when healthy, Lopez is Brooklyn's most impactful player. His offensive efficiency as a true, back-to-the-basket 7-footer is unparalleled in the NBA -- his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 26.3 is by far the best on the team -- and new optical tracking data shows that he's become a much better rim protector than he's given credit for. He's played only three games since returning from an ankle injury, so he's probably not quite 100% healthy yet. Fortunately for the Knicks, he's exactly the type of big man Bargnani has been able to lock down. Not great in space, Bargnani has used his length to stymie post players like Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis in recent matchups, recording five blocks against the Rockets and tying a career high with six on Sunday against New Orleans.
What to Look For
Both teams have struggled out of the gates, giving tonight's NYC showdown a slightly different vibe than many expected when the schedule came out. Nevertheless, both are hungry to get into the win column and tonight should not be lacking for intensity. Of last year's four matchups, two were decided by three points and one went to overtime. All were exciting... J.R. Smith is listed as probable, despite sitting out practice yesterday. If he is limited, expect to see more of Tim Hardaway Jr., who is coming off a breakout 21-point performance against the Pelicans... Just the other day, Kidd announced that his top assistant, Lawrence Frank, had been reassigned within the organization, so he will no longer be sitting on the bench alongside the first-year coach.