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Preview: New York Knicks vs Brooklyn Nets

The NBA‘s governing body had almost played the cards perfectly in lining up a start-of-the season encounter between the two ball-clubs in New York. One of the franchises carries the name of the city, while the other is content in sharing the identity of the city’s prominent boroughs. The two teams have been successful in assorting a star-studded agglomeration of talents, in line with the recently popular and much propagated strategy of “SUPER-TEAMS”. The two teams have a revamped roster, and a line-up to challenge the elite teams in the Conference. The predictions were on, but amidst all this one central question remained.

How would the fans take to both the franchises? Will it be like the Clippers and the Lakers, or far more turbulent? The loyalties and fealties were divided, but the battle for supremacy was still to be fought. Which ball-club is the city’s favourite, which team shares their hopes, fads and expectations and which team matters more to the hypnagogic city?The Hurricane Sandy might have delayed the questions, but the tussle was inevitable.

Come tomorrow, the answers will be there for everyone to see. The great battle might still be in a very nascent stage, with only 11 games into the season, with the two teams still trying to get their internal structures to gel.

However, the match is much beyond just a basketball game. This game isn’t about which team has the better talent, which team has the chemistry to do it all. On a very subjective level, it is about two teams fighting for their identity, the Knicks to re-instate the fact they they are the original ball-club from New York, the Nets to prove that they are no pushovers either.

The name ‘Nets’ is derived from names of two different sports franchises from New York:- Major League baseball’s New York Mets and the American Football league’s New York Jets. Co-incidence no, because if you go through the history of the Nets right from the ABA times, you will realize that the Nets and the city of New York have a much deeper history to it.

The rivalry between the two ball-clubs was maybe at its zenith when the Stephen Marbury-led Knicks faced up against the Jason Kidd-led Nets. Kidd did burn the Knicks in many such encounters, and it is just ironic that tomorrow, he will be taking on the Deron Williams-led Nets wearing the orange and blue of the Knicks. Life does come a full circle, I guess.

However, putting aside the history and the rivalry between the two franchises, the encounter does promise to be an absolutely riveting encounter in pure basketball terms. The two franchises have been among the better teams in the NBA, with the Knicks leading the conference standings with a record of 8-3. They have been playing some unbelievable basketball, riding high on the exploits of their rejuvenated and resurgent star in Carmelo.

The story for the Nets has not been much different either, as they have also registered a superb start to their season, and currently stand at 7-4. They are coming off a victory against the mighty Clippers and are surely surging high on confidence. The season record will be on the line, and this battle isn’t just about a team’s redemption, but will also have a huge binding on the conference standings.

So with so much on the line, let us go through a brief analysis about what we can expect from the encounter.

Key Match-ups :-

Carmelo Anthony vs Gerald Wallace

Carmelo is going to play the 4 again, and is on a hot streak of form, averaging 25.3 points on 46% shooting from the field. His renewed energy on the defensive end of the floor has been the back-bone behind the Knicks successful run, and against the Nets their hopes will be primed on him to get it done yet again. NBA MVP and the all-star first team selection banter might be on, but Anthony can hardly look for an easy night against the defensive wizard in Wallace. Wallace and Humphries would be expected to share the defensive duties on Anthony, but while Anthony can use his speed and quickness to exploit the far more languid Humphries, he will surely be up against a far sterner test from Wallace.

Wallace is a unique combination of size, athleticism, speed and strength and can prove more than a match for the much bedizened offensive prowess of Anthony. If Wallace succeeds in keeping Anthony at bay, the Nets might just have a far more comfortable night at the Barclays arena.

Deron Williams vs Raymond Felton

The two point-guards have been the vital cogs, acting as the lubricant that has the entire structure rolling. Williams is maybe the better player and his numbers more than validate the same, as he has managed to rake in an impressive 16.9 points per game, to go along with 8.2 dimes a game. Felton on the other hand, hasn’t done too bad either, notching up 15.8 points per game, to go with 7 dimes.

Let aside the comparison with the elite guards in the league, Felton’s much improved numbers has allowed him to redeem a floundering career. In the post-season he claimed to have lost some serious weight; in the season, he proved that he had indeed shed off the baggage and struggles riding high on his mind. And the match-up shall be another test for the guard, to prove to the world that he has indeed come a long way from his days with the TrailBlazers.

Felton and Williams are also pretty adept defensive players, and both will have their work cut-out in this encounter. Felton might find himself in many isolation sets with William trying to put on some cross-overs and use his step-back jumper, while Williams will have to find his way through many Tyson Chandler screens and pick and rolls. Felton has to stay with Williams through all his wizardry, while Williams will need supreme drive and energy to prevent Felton from hurting the Nets with his dribble penetration. It is safe to assume that whoever comes supreme in this encounter would also very much seal the fate of this match.

Tyson Chandler vs Brook Lopez

Shaq believes that Lopez is the second best Center in the league, and is a rarity among the league’s Center’s today for his ability to play with his back-to-the basket and his wide array of post-moves. His move to Brooklyn has definitely seen him grow as a player, and with a facilitator like William, his stats have shown massive improvements. He has managed to rake in 19.4 ppg, and has averaged a field goal percentage of 55%.

He will be up against the reigning defensive player of the year in Tyson Chandler, and this contest for sure seems to be very interesting. Chandler is a great defensive player, someone who has the foot speed and athleticism to match Brook step for step. Lopez and Chandler going against each other in the low post will sure be interesting, as Chandler is famed for his ability to shut down the opposition bigs’, while Lopez has proved to be the major offensive weapon for the Nets. Chandler will for sure dominate the boards, and come up with the rebounds, but Brook with his no-lift jump-shot doesn’t exactly need to work the glass to be effective. This for sure looks to be a very interesting duel.

Ball Rotation vs Isolation Plays

The Knicks under Woodson have shown a desire to share the ball, and this has helped them to utilize the premier shooting talents of the likes of Steve Novak, JR Smith and Carmelo to the maximum. The Knicks have tried to create off dribble penetrations, using the high pick and roll. The penetration into the paint causes the defense to converge, leaving an open man on the perimeter, whom the Knicks have managed to rotate the ball to, and have knocked down the shots from beyond the arc. The Knicks lead the league in terms of three points attempted and made, shooting over 40% from beyond the arc.

On the contrary, the Avery Johnson-led Nets also are the league leaders in terms of 3-point shots allowed and have shown a commitment to close-out the spot-up shooter and force teams to put the ball on the floor and try to create off the dribble. The Nets will be well informed about the talents of Novak and company, and expect them to be well-prepared for the same.

The Nets on the other hand, are a team that try to create off isolation plays, be it through Williams on the perimeter, Johnson on the mid-post or Lopez on the low-post. While the size of the Nets would bother the Knicks, still the Knicks have pretty adept perimeter defensive players in Brewer and Felton who are more than capable of snuffing out the threat posed by the Nets’ wingmen.

The Nets and the Knicks seem to be very well-matched, but judging on the basis of the teams that the Knicks have gone through in their season so far, they have a slight edge.. The Knicks have beaten the Heat, have had a close encounter with the Grizzlies and also seen off the Spurs. The Nets on the other hand were beaten by the Lakers, and their victory against the Clippers remains their only significant victory to date. Further on, the experience riding with the Knicks gives them a slight edge in this high profile encounter.

However, all of these are mere speculations and I might well have to eat my words back. On paper, the Knicks might seem to have an edge, but this encounter has so much riding on it that judging it on the basis of pure numbers alone is nothing but perfunctory to say the least.

And when these two teams line up at the Barclays Center, expect the atmosphere to be electric. The quotes and pre-game situations have already got the euphoria boiling. Some of the best ones are:-

Marcus Camby: “ It is going to be like a home game for us.”

Carmelo Anthony: “If we don’t get up for this game, then I don’t know what games we’ll get up for. It’s an inner-city game, New York vs. Brooklyn. To me, going back home, going back to my borough, playing my first game back there is a very special moment for myself.”

Kris Humphries: “There’s going to be more energy. Each play is going to be bigger. So I think it’s tough because of the atmosphere but we have to come out and execute, not get caught up in the Nets-Knicks thing.”

The players are feeling it, the media is having a field day, and the likes of Spike Lee and Jay Z are ready to line-up on the sidelines. There is going to be a lot of frenzy-driven histrionics, and the euphoria and magnanimity of the moment can hardly be imagined. Forget the history and the legacy, the rivalry just got much bigger.

P.S :- Expect Jason Kidd to be the X-factor.

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