For the second straight day, the eyes of the NBA world will be zeroed in on New York City tonight. Last night, at Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks took down the Miami Heat, dominating the second half and getting a big time performance from Carmelo Anthony. Tonight, the 27-9 Heat will hop on over to Brooklyn to play the Nets in another prime time battle.
The first two months of the season represented absolute disasters for both of the Big Apple’s pro hoops teams, as each team struggled amid injuries, off-court drama, and cacophonous cries for coaching turnover while losses piled on losses. There were moments when it almost seemed like each team was trying to one-up the other in the terribleness department, and the Nets certainly outshone the Knicks in that area when the two teams met at the Barclays Center on December fifth. On that night, the Knicks plowed through the Nets to the tune of a 113-83 “road” victory. Three nights later, the Knicks managed a 41 point home loss to the Celtics.
The Nets entered the 2014 portion of the season with a 10-21 record while the Knicks was even worse at 9-21. Since New Year’s Day however, things have swung in a different direction for both teams. The Nets have looked sharp in four consecutive wins, the most recent coming in the form of an impressive, narrow victory over the surging Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. Playing without star center Brook Lopez, who is out for the year with a broken foot, the Nets have employed a more small ball look lately that puts Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center. The approach has been working and the Nets have also been the beneficiaries of great play from Joe Johnson, who knocked in a game winner against the Thunder on January 2nd. Johnson, or “Joe Jesus”, as they’re calling him in Barclays these days, has dropped a total of 50 points in the Nets’ last two games.
Thanks to the terrible state of the Eastern Conference, the Nets’ early season struggles didn’t bury them in the standings–if the season ended today, the Nets would make the playoffs thanks to their recent surge.
The Knicks never slipped out of playoff range either, and they’re now only a single game out of the eight seed and four and a half games out of first in the Atlantic Division. The Knickerbockers have won four out of the five games they’ve played since the turn of the year and hold wins against both the San Antonio Spurs and, of course, the Heat over that stretch. While the Nets’ early season tumble seemed based on in-team clashing and injuries, the Knicks’ main problem early on was that they simply weren’t scoring. Carmelo Anthony was pouring in bucket after bucket, but second scoring option J.R. Smith couldn’t hit shots (he’s currently benched), and other scoring options such as Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert were mired in serious shooting slumps. The Knicks still haven’t turned their offense up to a super-high level, but Shumpert is playing better, Melo has been incredibly efficient lately, and Amar’e Stoudemire has started to produce more.
In spite of the recent spurts of success, the Knicks and Nets still sport terrible records. Combined, they are 27-43. Nevertheless, the past couple of weeks should provide some hope to the tri-state area basketball fan.
The Knicks sent a message to the defending champs last night in Midtown. Tonight, the Nets will try to send a message of their own. Suddenly, the question has turned from which NYC team is playing worse to which is playing better.