Knicks and Nets meet for a big game at MSG

Al Bello

Welcome back to the playoffs.

The Nets clinched a playoff spot and set a franchise record for consecutive victories at home with an impressive 105-96 victory against Houston on Tuesday night. At 40-33, the Nets are 2.5 games ahead of the Wizards for the fifth seed, and 1.5 games behind Toronto and Chicago for the third and fourth seeds respectively. For those wondering, this game won't be on the YES Network and will be airing on Channel Nine. And for the folks outside of the tristate area, it'll be airing on ESPN.

Waiting for the Nets will be the hometown New York Knicks. They were left for dead about a month ago, but ran off an eight game winning streak to get themselves back into playoff contention. They're only one game behind the Hawks for the eighth seed after beating the Jazz on Monday, but the schedule is extremely difficult this month for the Knicks. What's it looking like? They will be: home for Brooklyn, home for Washington, at Miami, at Toronto, home for Chicago, at Brooklyn and home for Toronto to close out the season. All playoff teams, and all of them are battling for positioning.

The season series is tied up at one. Back in December, the Knicks embarrassed the Nets on national TV in a game that no one wanted to watch. When the Nets returned from London, they delivered a 23 point beat down to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They play each other again in the penultimate game of the 2013-2014 regular season.

With these teams looking for better positioning, it would be wise to look around the league and see what their possible first round opponents are up to. On Wednesday's docket, the Pistons visit the Pacers, the Rockets go to Toronto, the Bulls visit Atlanta, Boston plays in Washington against the Wizards, and the Bucks play Miami. The teams you need to pay attention to are bolded.

The season so far

What's going on with our New York representatives? Let's find out:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

New York

Record

40-33 32-43

Pace

93.88 92.73

Offensive Efficiency

104.4 105

Defensive Efficiency

104 106.9

Offensive Rebounding percentage

21.8 25.1

Turnover rate

15.2 13.8

Assist rate

16.8 16.2

Rebound rate

47.1 49

Free throw rate

31.3 24.4

Effective Field Goal percentage

51.2 50.3

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.3 51.5

Andrei Kirilenko was reportedly hoping to return"midweek," but there hasn't been an update on his status as of this writing. Marcus Thornton has missed the last two games with a back injury and there hasn't been an update on him either. Kevin Garnett hopes to come back next week.

Joe Johnson built off a good March with a tremendous start to April. Johnson scored 32 points and made four three pointers against the Rockets. Iman Shumpert will be assigned to slow Johnson down. Shumpert is a quality defender, but Johnson has the advantage here. Although Johnson is sixth on the team in usage rate, he's fourth among the players that are still on the active Nets roster and the general feel of the team indicates that he is the go-to player for the Nets. Johnson has been excellent from behind the arc over the past month and change (44.1 percent since March first) and has the size advantage on Shumpert.

On the injury front, Tim Hardaway Jr. had to leave Monday's game against Utah due to a sprained ankle. Amar'e Stoudemire has missed the last two games. No update on their availability for tonight's game.

Things have changed for the Knicks since they last saw the Nets. Raymond Felton got picked up on gun charges and Phil Jackson got picked up to run the front office. Prior to Jackson's hiring, there was a lot of frustration as how the process was going. Posting and Toasting manager Seth Rosenthal wrote:

So how much would Phil Jackson being Phil Jackson matter? On one hand, there is this vague notion of a "winning culture." I look at a team with a recent history of bleeding assets in trades, letting agency/familial influence outweigh talent and fit in roster decisions, and enabling a coach despite mounting evidence that he sucks...and I can see how there's room for the culture to shift toward winning. That's basic, though, even if it doesn't come naturally to the Knicks. With someone like Jackson, "winning culture" really refers to an aura-- a majestic way of being that attracts the good and overrides the bad. Phil Jackson has done lots of Winning, so he is Winning. Forget the context, forget that it was a completely different job under completely different circumstances. He is Winning, so if you put him in your thing, then he'll make your thing do Winning.

Andrea Bargnani was expected to be the second option on offense, but that didn't really work out and we haven't seen him since


COLD WORLD.

If Stoudemire is out again, J.R. Smith will take his place in the starting lineup. Smith is averaging 13.5 points, four rebounds and three assists a game in about 33 minutes a night. As has been discussed throughout his career, Smith can be wildly erratic. He has games where he is on fire from deep, but there are others where he will shoot you out a game at a moment's notice. Shaun Livingston will be spending time covering Smith. Livingston has enough athleticism and quickness to keep up with Smith when he drives to the rim and chase him off the three point line at every opportunity.

Player to watch: Carmelo Anthony

Anthony has had to carry this bunch throughout this year, and he's been doing a great job of it. Melo leads the league in total minutes (2795) and minutes per game (38.8). Melo has always been a tremendous scorer, and this season has been no exception. Anthony is averaging 28 points per game, second to Kevin Durant. One surprising thing about Melo's time in New York has been his success from behind the arc. In eight seasons with Denver, Melo only made 31 percent of his three point attempts. With the Knicks, he's converted on 38.7 percent of those shots. And with his success when isolated in the high or low post, it makes an already difficult player to guard almost impossible to slow down. I never noticed this, but Melo is a beast in April. According to Scott Davis of Buckets Over Broadway, Anthony has a career average of 27 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 57.7 in April.

The Nets are gonna throw a variety of looks at Anthony. Paul Pierce figures to start off covering Melo. Pierce has enough size to thwart Melo off once he gets into the post. If Kirilenko plays, he figures to get a turn covering Anthony. Alan Anderson is a physical defender and he'll get some opportunities to slow Anthony down. It's not a 100 guaranteed strategy, but the more looks you can throw at Melo, the better chance you have of slowing him down. The majority of Melo's field goal attempts come from the 16-24 foot area (think high post), and that's where most of his shots figure to come from here. When he does drive, the Nets big men will and should come over to help at every turn. Tyson Chandler, Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler aren't great offensive players (I should add that Chandler does finish well when he gets the ball inside the restricted area), so Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche and friends won't have to worry too much about them.

From the Vault

Deron Williams played former Knicks guard Jeremy Lin on Tuesday. Take a trip back to February 2012 and see what Williams did when he matched up with Lin at Madison Square Garden.


More reading: Posting and Toasting

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