The surprising 18-6 New York Knicks take on their cross-town rivals, the 13-11 Brooklyn Nets, in what should be a great matchup.
The last times these two teams played, the Knicks pulled out a squeaker, beating the Nets in the final seconds.
The NBA is a game of matchups and this is no different. Which matchups will determine the outcome of this game?
Deron Williams vs. Raymond Felton
Deron Williams is having another typically terrific season, averaging almost 17 points and eight assists a game. He drives the Nets offense and is vital to their success.
Williams is struggling uncharacteristically from three-point land, shooting well below his career average.
It'll be Raymond Felton's job to keep him from penetrating and force him to shoot threes. Felton is experiencing a renaissance of sorts and has been a huge key in the Knicks success so far.
While Felton is not the best defensively, look for him to give Williams an open shot. On offense, Felton has had success driving to the hoop and is shooting well above his career percentage from three.
Felton will succeed if he can force Williams to test his rusty shot. If Williams can keep Felton out of the paint, and disrupt a few of the passing lanes, then he'll have done his job.
Felton has the easier assignment, because he can force Williams to take shots he doesn't want to. If he does, it'll give the Knicks a huge advantage.
Brook Lopez vs. Tyson Chandler
The two big men inside will have a lot to say before this game is over. Lopez has been the leading scorer for Brooklyn, averaging almost 18 a game. Chandler is averaging almost 13 points a game, which would be a career high and is the glue that keeps the defense together.
The Nets will try to get Lopez involved as much as possible and try to get Chandler into foul trouble. If they can, they'll like their chances against the weak backup centers for the Knicks. Chandler will have to be smart, play with good positioning and not let his emotions get in the way.
The Knicks offense does not revolve around Chandler—they rely primarily on the three. However, that might change tonight. Lopez is not the best defender and the Nets have a terrific defense—they give up just under 94 points per game, which is fifth-best in the league. The high-octane shooting might not work tonight, so look for the Knicks to work it into Chandler, so he can go up against the Nets' defensive weak link.
It's a good offensive pivot versus a very good defensive one, and usually defense wins out. Look for Chandler to win this matchup.
Three Point Offense vs. Three Point Defense
The Knicks live and die on the three. According to ESPN, "New York's 11.9 made 3-pointers per game and 29.5 attempts are the most by any team since the 3-point line was instituted in 1979-80." While that number may not be sustainable over the long run, it's very impressive.
The Nets, however, are really good at defending the three. According to ESPN, "Brooklyn, which has lost five of its last seven games at MSG, has allowed opponents to hit just 5.7 of their 3-pointers per game, the third-fewest in the NBA. "
So, which way is it going to go? A lot of it depends on if Carmelo Anthony plays. Anthony has been day-to-day with a bum ankle and has missed the last two games. He's still a game-time decision, but, according to the New York Daily News, he's taking it slow:
"I feel all right. I'm a little bit better, better than I felt a couple days ago," Anthony said. "Of course I want to play. But if I'm not able to go out there and be the player I can be and help my team, I'm not going to (do) that … I think the best thing for me, the best thing for the team, the best thing for the organization is to have me healthy."
Reading between the lines suggest he might miss the game tonight, but that has not been decided. If he's out, the Knicks will lose a deadly three-point shooter; 'Melo is shooting at a 45 percent rate.
If he's out, Chris Copeland will start in his place. Copeland scored 29 in his first career start Monday against Houston.
Still, the key to this is Carmelo. If he plays, the Knicks should be able to light it up from three. If not, Copeland will not be able to be effective against Gerald Wallace, one of the league's best defenders. As Kobe Bryant told the New York Times,
“You know, Gerald Wallace, he’s a one-man wrecking crew defensively,” Bryant said. “He was all over the place, blocking shots and shooting passing lanes, which some of the lanes he shot just aren’t normal.”
Melo can handle that, but the rookie Copeland probably cannot. If that's the case, look for the Knicks to work it inside to Chandler, as mentioned above.
The game as a whole will be exciting and whoever can better execute the matchups above will come out victorious.