Members of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets each did a great deal of talking before the season began concerning which team now rightfully ”owns” the Big Apple. At the time at it seemed the chirping was at least somewhat justified. After all, expectations were sky-high in the city following the flurry of offseason moves by Brooklyn, while the Knicks were trying to build on the momentum of being the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference last year.
Now, with both squads experiencing dreadful starts to their respective seasons, Thursday night’s contest between the two was more about trying to simply win a game and gain a handle on rapidly deteriorating situations. The game itself turned out to be anticlimactic, as the Knicks finally resembled the 54-win team of a season ago and ended their nine-game losing streak with a 113-83 thrashing of the Nets.
It’s hard to say whether it is a coincidence that the Knicks played their best ball of the season because of the energy and collegiate like atmosphere that permeated the Barclays Center or if it was a result of them playing a lifeless opponent. Either way, the ball was moving around the perimeter at a fast click and finding open shooters for clean looks. New York connected on 16 of their 27 attempts from long-range, rediscovering the rhythm that had been missing practically all year.
Carmelo Anthony led a balanced attached with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. He made a concerted effort to get his teammates involved, and the end result was six Knick players scoring in double figures. Melo’s critics will say otherwise, but he has found many an open shooter for good looks this year only for them to repeatedly misfire. If this team can even begin to somewhat resemble the team that set an NBA record for 3-pointers made in 2012-2013, they should be able to climb back into playoff contention in what is a weak Eastern Conference.
It was refreshing to see the Knicks play with an edge and swagger again, especially Iman Shumpert and Andrea Bargnani. Shumpert had a spring in his step all game, finishing with a season-high 17 points and some choice words for Brooklyn forward Andray Blatche. Maybe all it took was the sight of longtime New York agitator Kevin Garnett to stoke the fire, but the usually reserved Bargnani stood up to KG in a brief scuffle and later trash talked the veteran big man. Though this last move led to his ejection from the game, it left the Knicks fan roaring in support and garnered him some much deserved affection from his teammates.
Without Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets are a tough team to watch at the moment. They simply don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up, and on the defensive end of the floor they are currently last in the league in terms of efficiency. Garnett was brought in to be the anchor in the middle and infuse the team with the toughness it had been lacking, but age has zapped him of some speed and he can longer play the minutes needed to pick up the intensity of an entire roster.
The only positive for the Nets was the play of Brook Lopez. Having returned to action about a week ago, Lopez showed no lingering effects of his ankle injury and managed to score 24 points and pull down nine rebounds. Brooklyn desperately needs him to generate easy buckets down low and open up his shooters for looks when he draws multiple defenders. The return of Williams to the lineup next Tuesday will surely help as well, as the Nets are just 2-8 in games he has missed.
The Knicks and Nets don’t face each other again until January 20th, so it will be interesting to see where they sit in the standings at that point in time. There is a good chunk of the season still left to be played, and with key pieces returning to the fray in the days ahead both have the capability to make the slow walk back to respectability. For Mike Woodson and Jason Kidd’s sake, let’s hope their bosses allow them the chance to stick around and orchestrate some games with a loaded deck.