NBA: The Brooklyn Nets May Be New York's Top Team Over the Knicks-Here's Why
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The standings in the East paint a rather sorry-looking picture.
Out of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, only four of them—Indiana, Chicago, Atlanta and the world champion Miami Heat—have winning records. Four of the eight teams in playoff contention have either .500 or losing records. And the other teams are dwelling in the cellar with abysmal records, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets among them.
The second season of the Battle for New York has seen the Knicks and Nets struggling to get any traction in the regular season; both teams have a 3-8 record. Of course, the reality is that NBA fans will really be seeing what all teams really look like around the December-January mark, once they have a couple of weeks of basketball under their belt. However, after the smoke clears from the immediate future in the Battle for New York, you'd have to feel pretty good if you're a Nets fan.
At the moment, it may not look like it, but the Nets are in primed to take it to the Knicks. The roster that the Nets have assembled over the offseason is built to win now. Pulling the trigger on major trades and signings, the Nets grabbed Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko among other decent pickups. For years Garnett and Pierce were the reason why the Celtics were restored to their glory. The duo comprise two-thirds of the "Big Three" with Ray Allen that brought the Celtics the 2008 NBA title, a 2009 NBA Finals appearance and made them mainstays in the playoffs for the last five seasons.
Terry, a plucky, sharpshooting sub, has the championship pedigree, as well, having been part of the Dallas Mavericks team that stunned the Miami Heat in six games for the 2010-11 NBA title. The 6'9" Kirilenko, a two-time All-Defensive NBA Second Team member, adds a nice extra scoring punch and an edge on defense. Combine that with the talents of superstar point guard Deron Williams and the imposing and skilled NBA All-Star center Brook Lopez, and that's a team that, on paper, looks like it can give LeBron and Co. a run for their money.
Of course, there are dangers with looking at a team "on paper" and deeming them title contenders. Remember when the Lakers brought Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to Hollywood? Before the start of last season, everyone was predicting that it would be a Lakers vs. Heat NBA Finals matchup. LeBron vs. Kobe. Howard vs. Chris Bosh. The dream matchup fans had been salivating over was on the verge of becoming reality. But perception, in this case, did not make reality. The Lakers struggled and sputtered. They couldn't get their shiny new toys to bond with their established stars, Bryant and Pau Gasol. They looked like an aging team, especially under Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense, and once Bryant went down to a season-ending Achilles injury, the Lakers were easy prey for San Antonio in a 4-0 first round playoff sweep.
The Nets themselves encountered some troubling signs last year: firing Avery Johnson as head coach, despite the fact he was named Coach of the Month twice that season, and failing to beat an injury-prone, Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls squad in the first round of the playoffs. But there is one key factor in their favor—new coach Jason Kidd, one of the smartest and most respected NBA point guards in history. Last season, Kidd, in his final season as a player, helped turn the Knicks from a disorganized bunch on offense into an effective, patient team that circulated the ball on offense and waited for the right shot. That approach took the Knicks to the Atlantic Division title and their first playoff series win since 2001. Now, the cunning and basketball savvy mind of the No. 2 all-time NBA assists leader takes the helm on the sidelines of a Brooklyn team with a talented point guard in Williams as floor general. With the right amount of work, if there's anyone who can bring out the best the Nets have to offer, it's Kidd.
By contrast, the Knicks have fewer prospects to look forward to. Signing Metta World Peace to a two-year deal was a nice boost to their defense, but the last thing the Knicks need is another forward, especially considering Carmelo Anthony's presence and the trade acquisition of Andrew Bargnani, who has shown flashes of good play but has not made the kind of impact the Knicks need to turn things around. Amar'e Stoudemire is playing once again, but with limited minutes and weak knees handicapping the player who was a strong league MVP candidate for much of the 2010-11 season, who knows if he'll ever be effective again?
The losses of young budding scorer Chris Copeland, Kidd and three-point specialist Steve Novak did them no favors on the bench, either. Although, Tim Hardaway Jr. is looking to be a promising rookie prospect. The same inconsistency that plagued the Knicks last season continues to haunt them this season on defense and on offense. All-Star center Tyson Chandler, their rock on defense and their most fiery leader, is out with a fractured right fibula. And apparently, a few of the Knicks are starting to get flustered after losing four games in a row.
"We're frustrated," J.R. Smith told ESPN after losing a 103-96 overtime heartbreaker to Indiana. "Like you say, it's too early to panic, but me, personally, I'm panicking. I don't like this."
"I don't want to play 3-8 basketball," Smith added. "I don't want to play 50-50 basketball. If we're going to be a championship-caliber team and call ourselves that, then we've gotta play like that. It can't be no other way."
No, there can't be. The start sets the tone for the season. If the Knicks want to have a chance at defending their division title in a wide open Atlantic group, they need to focus on playing hard defense, renew their intensity on offense, and find a way to get the ball moving the way it did last season, which puts the focus on point guard Raymond Felton. If he struggles from the field — he's at a 35.1 percent field goal clip in the last 10 games — he has to find a way to get his teammates involved more on offense. But even if they do manage to plug the holes on defense and find the mark in their shooting again, the Knicks still have an uphill path. They're not a very young team, and with the roster they have put together, the most they can hope for is to get past the first round again, unless they catch fire late in the season and manage to ride that momentum.
All in all, the Big Apple is ripe for the picking. And unless the Knicks get their act together fast, that apple is Brooklyn's for the taking.
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