It’s finally here. Nets vs. Knicks. Brooklyn vs. Manhattan. Good vs. Evil (fine, maybe the Knicks aren’t evil, but still). Even though it would have been special for this to be the opening night matchup at Barclays Center on November 1st, it might be a better game now that both teams have had time to shake off the rust and each play 12 games. And what makes it even better is that first place in the Atlantic Division is on the line. If the Nets (8-4) win, they will tie the Knicks (9-3) for first place. Even though we are still early in the season, this will be a fun, competitive, exciting, and important game for both teams.
The Nets and Knicks both are playing well heading into this much-anticipated game. The Knicks have lost 2 of 3, but are coming off of an easy win over the lowly Detroit Pistons yesterday afternoon. They were the last NBA to lose their first game. Aside from a couple of 2-game losing streaks this year, the Nets have been playing great and are 6-1 in Brooklyn. They are coming off a pair of double-digit wins over western conference opponents in the Clippers on Friday and the Blazers yesterday. They are off to their best home start since Jason Kidd led the squad to an 18-1 home record in 2003. If they win this game, it will mark the first time they have been 5 games over .500 since 2007.
What should we be expecting in terms of the crowd? I think that it will be a pro-Nets crowd, although there will be many Knicks fans that find their way into the arena. Last season in Newark when these two teams played, the crowd was well over 50% Knicks fans. But that was a different situation. The Nets were terrible, the Knicks were a little above average, and the Nets had few fans left in New Jersey because everyone knew they would be leaving at the end of the season. Now, although the Knicks probably still have more fans, Nets fans have given lots of fan support to their team early in the season, and the fans are a big reason why the team is 6-1 at home. There will be a blue and orange presence in Brooklyn tonight, but there will be a larger black and white one.
Injuries: Brooklyn has no significant injuries. For Manhattan, Iman Shumpert and Amare Stoudemire continue to sit out with injuries and it is unknown when they will return. This team has been playing without them the whole season and they are accustomed to them being out.
Deron Williams vs. Jason Kidd. Advantage: Williams
This will be Kidd’s first visit to the Nets since they moved to Brooklyn. In the offseason, many thought that Kidd would return to the Nets to backup Deron Williams, but instead he went to their crosstown rivals, mainly because they gave the 39-year-old a ridiculous 3-year contract. Surprisingly, Kidd’s scoring numbers have been up this season from last year, mainly because of his 3-point shooting. He is shooting over 50% from 3 this year, which is much higher than his career 35% shooting from long range. Don’t expect him to be able to keep that up as the season moves along. Jason is good friends with Nets starting pg Deron Williams, who is coming off a strong second half yesterday against Portland. Deron will be very motivated to play well in this game on national television and he knows how important this game is to fans. He will want to shut up the Knicks fans that make the trip to Brooklyn and I expect him to have a very good game.
Joe Johnson vs. Raymond Felton. Advantage: Johnson
Raymond Felton is another Knick playing better than he should be at this point in the season, mainly in his 3-point shooting. His career average is 33% and last year he shot 30%. This season he is shooting 45% but don’t expect him to keep that up. Still, he is averaging 16 ppg and 7 apg and has been very good for Manhattan so far this season. However, he will be unable to guard Joe Johnson, as there is a 6-inch height difference between the two players. Expect Carmelo Anthony to switch onto Johnson, while Gerald Wallace will start out guarding either Felton or Anthony. The Nets have a major height advantage in their starting lineup and we will see how they take advantage of that. Joe Johnson is coming off his best two games of the season where he has made many clutch shots in the fourth quarter. Hopefully he will continue that tonight.
Gerald Wallace vs. Ronnie Brewer. Advantage: Wallace
Brewer is another player shooting way too well from 3. His career percentage is 26%. This year he is shooting 44%. He will not keep that up. He will not play major minutes in this game. Expect J.R. Smith and Steve Novak to be in the game if it is close in the fourth quarter. Games like this are exactly why the Nets have Gerald Wallace. Against a somewhat position-less team like the Knicks, Crash is important because he can guard just about anybody. It will be interesting how Avery decides to use him in this game.
Kris Humphries vs. Carmelo Anthony. Advantage: Anthony
If Humphries is ever guarding Carmelo, the Nets are in trouble. Luckily, I don’t anticipate that happening very often. Some people are calling Carmelo an MVP candidate early in the season, and i don’t understand that at all. Yes, he is averaging 25 ppg, but he is still averaging only 2 assists, a career low! He is more selfish than he ever has been! Especially on a team with as many hot shooters as the Knicks have had this year! Also, his defense has not improved much since he has came to Manhattan and he still gets too many technical fouls. Humphries is coming off of a very good double-double against Portland. I expect him to get double-digit rebounds again against this old and undersized team.
Brook Lopez vs. Tyson Chandler. Advantage: Lopez
This is the matchup I will be watching tonight. It will be arguably the NBA’s best offensive center against arguably its best defensive center in Lopez vs. Chandler. The key for Lopez will be going at the rim early and getting Chandler into foul trouble. He has done a great job of doing that this year and is averaging almost 20 ppg because of it. If he can get past Chandler, the Knicks backup centers, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace, are all dinosaurs and Lopez will feast in the paint.
Prediction: Nets 95, Knicks 89.
The Nets will win this game. It is in Brooklyn and they know how much it means to the fans. They will play at their pace and hold the “high powered” Manhattan offense to under 90 points. Today will be a good day to be a Brooklyn Nets fan.