The Clash of the Boroughs heads north tonight as the Brooklyn Nets will visit the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden for the first time this season. The teams faced off twice at the Barclays Center already and split the series there.
The Knicks lost in overtime to the Nets on November 26 but returned to Brooklyn on December 11 and overcame a 17-point deficit to win on a late three-pointer from Jason Kidd. The rivalry is in full force, and the Knicks will look to take a lead in the season series now that it has moved to their home court.
New York has more to play for tonight than just the upper hand in its rivalry with the Nets. The team just lost its first game at home, courtesy of a drubbing by the Houston Rockets on Monday night. Granted, star forward Carmelo Anthony missed that game with a sprained ankle and his absence was greatly felt, but the Knicks will want to quickly shake the loss off before tonight's game.
The Nets are just as hungry for a win tonight. After going 11-4 over the first month of the season, Brooklyn has gone just 2-7 in December thanks to continuing struggles from point guard Deron Williams and general inconsistency all around.
Head coach Avery Johnson will need to right the ship tonight, as his team has lost two straight and needs to get back on the winning track. Of course, with a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd supporting the rival Knicks, that will be easier said than done.
Time: Wednesday, December 19, 7:00 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, YES, MSG
Records: Brooklyn Nets (13-11) vs. New York Knicks (18-6)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Wednesday, December 19, 8:31 a.m. EST
Injuries: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), Rasheed Wallace (foot, day-to-day), Raymond Felton (hand, expected to play), Carmelo Anthony (ankle, game-time decision)
Key Storyline: Can Banged Up Knicks Overcome Injuries?
The Knicks may have won their last contest against the Nets thanks to a Jason Kidd three-pointer, but the real hero of the game was Carmelo Anthony. The former Syracuse star scored 45 points and drained five threes that night, proving to be instrumental in New York's comeback victory.
However, there is no guarantee that Anthony will play tonight. He has missed the Knicks' last two games after spraining his ankle in the team's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on December 13, and he told Newsday's Al Iannazzone that he would "play it smart" with his injury and is a game-time decision.
Anthony would definitely be a big loss, but many other Knicks are banged up as well. Rasheed Wallace has been plagued by a sore foot all season long, Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert are still working to come back from knee injuries, and free-agent signee Marcus Camby has still yet to make an impact defensively due to injury struggles of his own.
This leaves the Knicks short-handed, and that could be a problem against the Nets. Joe Johnson is starting to get his scoring groove back, and Gerald Wallace's percentages are also starting to rise.
The Knicks will need key contributions from nearly all of their healthy players to beat the Nets.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Brook Lopez
Both Brooklyn and New York can say that one of their greatest assets is at center. Knicks big man Tyson Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and has picked up right where he left off last season.
Through 24 games, Chandler is averaging 12.9 points and 10 rebounds per game and is also leading the NBA in field goal percentage at an astounding 71 percent. He is an incredibly dominant force in the paint at 7'1", 240 pounds, and has formed a great on-court relationship with point guard Raymond Felton.
Nets center Brook Lopez is of very similar build at 7'0", 265 pounds, though he is still learning how to be more of a defensive center than just a scoring big man. On the season, the former Stanford Cardinal is averaging 17.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
That isn't to say that Lopez's defense is nonexistent. In fact, his work there this season is very much improved compared to his first four seasons. He has started to play more aggressively this year and is averaging 2.5 blocks per game, ranking sixth in the league.
Lopez is going to have to play aggressively on both sides of the floor tonight. On defense, Chandler will likely try to post him up, and he must be ready for that. On offense, he must fight past Chandler's superior defense and experience, not an easy task at all.
Similarly, Chandler cannot take Lopez lightly. Though his inside game has improved, Lopez also likes to occasionally break out his jump shot. As his shooting chart indicates, he is no slouch in that department.
Chandler must be prepared to spend some time outside the paint guarding Lopez and risk leaving the key, where he's New York's best defensive presence.
Whoever wins this matchup will likely be on the winning side.
X-Factor: Jason Kidd
Kidd was the hero of the Knicks' last game against the Nets and has been a hero for the team as a whole all season long. Despite being 39 years old, the 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer has played a key role in the team's phenomenal start to the 2012-13 season. He is not the same triple-threat point guard he was in the prime of his career but has contributed in other ways with excellent results.
Through 20 games, Kidd is averaging 8.7 points and 1.8 steals per contest, while shooting an amazing 47 percent from three-point range. Apart from sinking the game-winning shot in the Knicks' recent win over Brooklyn, he also had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists in that game.
He has been clutch all season long, and needs to be extra clutch tonight after shooting just 5-of-23 from the field over his past two games. This shouldn't be too difficult for him, as a weak defender in Joe Johnson will likely be guarding him.
Kidd has not had to be be one of his team's primary playmakers in a few years, but that could change tonight. With Carmelo Anthony possibly sitting the game out, Kidd must do all he can to channel the player he was in the prime of his career, be it on offense or defense.
This means not being afraid to go after a rebound or drive into the teeth of the defense and dish to the open man. The fact of the matter is that Kidd was signed by the Knicks for a reason, and it is time for him to go that extra mile tonight in helping the team defeat the Nets at home.
With or without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have the edge in this game. The Nets' collective chemistry issues have started to show this month, and a tough New York defense will not help them get back on the winning track tonight.
Deron Williams' shooting struggles will continue, though his fine passing will help keep the game close. Joe Johnson will put up his fair share of points, but tough defense from Kidd and (on some possessions) Ronnie Brewer will keep him from having an efficient shooting night.
Further burying the Nets will be Tyson Chandler's domination of Brook Lopez. Though Lopez missed his team's second game against the Knicks with a sprained foot, New York will likely have watched plenty of tape of him from its first game against the Nets. That night, Lopez had 22 points and 11 rebounds, plus an astounding five blocks.
Who will win?
Chandler will show why he's one of the best defenders in the NBA by exploiting the holes in Lopez's offensive game.
On New York's end, look for Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to carry the offensive load should Anthony miss a third straight game. Kidd will sink some clutch threes in the second half, as will fellow shooter Steve Novak.
The Knicks will realize how much they need a win tonight after losing the season series to the Rockets on Monday and will show up fully prepared to continue doing what they have done all season long: play quality team basketball.
New York Knicks 102, Brooklyn Nets 95
All statistics in this article are accurate as of December 18, 2012