Nets return to New York to face Knicks on MLK Day

Bruce Bennett

It's good to be home. After playing in Toronto & London, the Nets are back in New York. In between enjoying the sights and sounds of London, the Nets took some time to beat up on the Atlanta Hawks. Technically, they're still "on the road," but Manhattan vs. Brooklyn isn't that big of a difference. Unfortunately for the Nets, this is game one of a back to back. They'll return to the Barclays Center on Tuesday to play the Orlando Magic.

The opponent for this MLK Day matinee game will be the New York Knicks. Things had been going well for New York in 2014, including very impressive wins over the Spurs and Heat, but things have gone badly for the Knicks this week. They've lost three straight games, two of which were blowouts. After this contest, the homestand will continue against Philadelphia, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, and Miami. This is a rematch of the game nobody wanted to see, a game New York won by 30 points.

The season so far

How have things been going for the New York teams? Let's take a look:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

New York

Record

16-22 15-25

Pace

93.73 92.65

Offensive Efficiency

102.6 101.8

Defensive Efficiency

105.8 105.7

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23.6 24.5

Turnover rate

15.5 13.6

Assist rate

16.4 16.3

Rebound rate

48.5 48.6

Free throw rate

32.3 23.1

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.5 48.5

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.8 51.3

Deron Williams is back. He's been out of action for the past two weeks and didn't make the trip to London. This is his first game back & with Brooklyn playing Orlando the next night, don't expect Williams to be as active on offense as he usually is in this contest. Look for Shaun Livingston to be the primary ballhandler as Williams reintegrates himself into the flow of the offense.

Picking up the slack for the Nets offense will be Joe Johnson & Paul Pierce. They both are coming off solid games in London and will look to carry that over. Pierce missed the first Knick game & Johnson had a 4-15 night. They both have the size advantage over Knick wing players & will look to exploit that in the post.

In the front court, Kevin Garnett & Andray Blatche will try to bounce back from their poor games against the Knicks. For Garnett, he wasn't able to make much of an impact & was thoroughly outclassed by Andrea Bargnani. Slowly but surely Garnett has improved his play & is starting to resemble the player Nets management thought they were getting. With Martin & Stoudemire out, New York loses their third and fourth best rebounders. Throughout the year, Garnett's success on the defensive glass has been consistent & he ought to maintain that success. With Blatche, he's coming off one of his best games of the season against Atlanta. Most of his success came on the inside against the Hawks & is a good bet to do so again against the Knicks. His decision making is always up for debate & he'll need to be careful with his ball management as the Knicks are sixth in the Association in forcing turnovers.

On the injury front for the Knicks, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin are both out of action. During Thursday's game against Indiana, they both sprained their left ankles and they will both be out two weeks. Tyson Chandler is back after missing six weeks due to a leg injury but is still dealing with the after effects of his bronchitis.

Back when the Knicks & Nets played in December, here's what Posting and Toasting's Seth Rosenthal told our own Dennis Velasco when asked what was going wrong:

It's everything, and you can sort of check off the blame in sequence. Tyson Chandler is missing, and that's bad, but the Knicks were fine without him last year. The remaining roster has some gravely bad defenders and guys who just can't hit an open shot right now, but, again, the Knicks got through that last year. That leaves coaching. Whoever's governing the rotation-- and reports suggest that's not purely Mike Woodson's doing-- has gone away from the two-point-guard, shooter-happy lineups that so behooved the Knicks last year. And if Woodson's instructing his team to keep the ball moving and not make illogical defensive switches, then he's not reaching them. Everything is broken. Management sucks. Injuries suck. The rotation sucks, and the players in the rotation have really sucked.

When we look at the numbers from the early part of the season, we get a good sense of how bad they were. In November & December, they were allowing over 107 points per 100 possessions. Some of their troubles are the result of missing Tyson Chandler for an extended amount of time. However, when Chandler has played, the defense has been much worse when he's on the court (granted it's only 437 minutes, but still). One issue as it relates to Tyson has been his time on the court with Andrea Bargnani. They've struggled when they've shared the court together & have been apart of New York's weaker lineups.

On offense, Carmelo Anthony will lead the charge. The league leader in minutes per game is having another solid season for the defending Atlantic Division Champions. He's averaging 26 points and a career high nine rebounds a game on a true shooting percentage of 54.2 in 39 minutes a night. One encouraging trend for Melo has been his three point shooting. After shooting a career best 37.9 percent from three point range (on six attempts a game) last year, he's up to 39.2 percent from deep in 2013-2014 (on four attempts a game). Along with Melo, Bargnani & Iman Shumpert will look to do more while Amar'e is out of action. As expected, Bargs hasn't helped much on the glass but has been a better than expected post defender. He has the ability to space the floor, but is shooting only 28 percent from three point range this season. As for Shumpert, he hasn't been able to improve offensively (his jump shot hasn't been there this season) but hasn't hindered the team on defense. When he's on the court, the team is 10 points per 100 possessions better on defense. He'll spend most of the afternoon guarding Joe Johnson.

Player to Watch: J.R. Smith

It hasn't been a good season for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. He underwent surgery on his knee back in the summer and was suspended for the first five games of this season due to smoking weed. He got fined $25,000 after he went looking for Brandon Jennings on these Twitter streets after Jennings decided to talk sideways about J.R.'s brother Chris. Chris got cut from the Knicks. The league didn't think his untying shoelaces was funny (for what it's worth, I did) & took $50,000 out of his pockets. He got benched against Miami on national TV & had it happen to him again in Charlotte. And to top it all off, he was the subject of a petty article by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski.

On the court, it hasn't been much better. In 32 minutes a game, he's seen his shooting numbers drop across the board. He's shooting a career worst 36.8 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from three point range, and incredibly, 60.8 percent from the free throw line. As Seth alludes to here, it's been a variety of issues affecting Smith this year. And with the way the rumor mill is churning, J.R. might not be in New York for that much longer.

Provided he isn't benched again, J.R. will get to reacquaint himself with former nemesis Jason Terry. Terry missed the December contest and Smith had a decent game against Brooklyn. With the injuries in the frontcourt and Tim Hardaway Jr. dealing with an injured wrist, Smith will see a good amount of time on the court. For large parts of the season, Brooklyn's three point defense was substandard. However in January teams are only shooting 36.5 percent against the Nets from deep. Smith hasn't had the best season from deep but has the potential to explode from downtown at any moment. He hasn't had much success driving to the basket (he's shooting almost 13 percentage points worse inside the restricted area as compared to last season) & he's barely gotten to the free throw line (career low free throw rate), but he should look to drive to the basket anyways. By doing so, he'll open up more opportunities for himself and his teammates from deep.

From the Vault

Since it's MLK Day, we're gonna do this a little differently. Here are Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King said by Ill Doctrine & Colorlines' Jay Smooth:


More reading: Posting and Toasting

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