Can Brooklyn Nets Make 2nd-Half Charge at New York Knicks for NYC Supremacy?
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As both teams zoomed out of the starting gate and engaged in epic head-to-head matchups, a budding feud formed between the NBA's two clubs from New York. Discussion of the crosstown competition, however, fizzled as the Nets fell apart.
But there's still plenty of time to reignite the rivalry.
Following an 11-4 start to the season, Brooklyn lost 11 of 16 games in December. As the team continued to plummet down the Eastern Conference standings, Avery Johnson was eventually saddled with the blame and stripped of his job.
The Nets lost their head coach, but they were also deprived of their confidence and enthusiasm stemming from the move to Brooklyn. All the initial excitement vanished.
Nets fans jumping for joy in November immediately slouched back into their seats. Different state, different uniforms, same results.
They then caught fire again, winning their last four bouts under P.J. Carlesimo's watch. On the other side of town, the Knicks have lost five of their last seven games, stumbling and bumbling (Walt Frazier isn't the only guy who can rhyme) during Raymond Felton's absence.
So how substantial is the disparity between the Knicks and Nets? Probably less than you think.
In terms of records, the 20-15 Nets only sit three games behind the Knicks in the Atlantic Division. During a tumultuous season where a highly regarded head coach got fired and their top player has taken a step backward, the Nets are just 3.5 games behind the No. 1-seeded Miami Heat.
And they still have 47 games to play.
Offense shouldn't be a problem for Brooklyn. Brook Lopez is one of the smoothest-scoring big men in the league and an aging Joe Johnson is still one of the top offensive shooting guards around.
This is a far cry from the attack that relied on Kris Humphries to provide the heavy lifting. With Andray Blatche emerging as a threat, Humphries is now, at best, the sixth option.
Yet New York puts up 5.3 more points per game, fueled by its prolific three-point shooting. Its team field-goal percentages are nearly identical, but the Knicks drain a league-high 11.2 long-range shots on a nightly basis.
Since Felton exited the lineup, the offense has faltered from downtown. Whether they miss the point guard's distribution abilities or have simply gone ice cold, it exposed the squad as vulnerable if they can't consistently drill threes.
On the defensive end, the Nets have outplayed their crosstown foes. The Nets surrender 94.7 points per contest while the Knicks, who began the season as a premier defensive squad, are now allowing 96.7 points on average.
Touting Tyson Chandler down low is a considerable advantage over the softer Lopez, but Brooklyn's depth covers up the shortcoming.
While the Knicks carry some defensive liabilities (Steve Novak, Chris Copeland and now a healthy Amare Stoudemire), C.J. Watson, Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Evans provide intensity on that side of the floor.
Brooklyn's second unit surely lacks the offensive power to match New York's, but Avery Johnson's expulsion frees MarShon Brooks from the dog house. In his second season, the shooting guard has shot 50.4 percent in heavily limited minutes.
Give him a chance to play a significant role off the bench, and Brooks could evolve into a lesser J.R. Smith.
Perhaps their early results are intertwined with their top performers. The arrow points back in the Knicks' direction when examining the drastically different seasons from each team's superstar.
While Carmelo Anthony has ventured down the road to stardom, Deron Williams is wildly swerving off the path.
Leading the charge for New York, Anthony has silenced his skeptics by producing an MVP-caliber season. Amending a disastrous 2011-12 campaign, Anthony is scoring 29.0 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting.
Williams, on the other hand, is averaging 16.7 points per game (his lowest rate since the 2006-07 season) on an inefficient 40.8 percent shooting. Formerly a stud who annually dished out 10 assists a night, Williams is now registering 7.7 dimes per game.
For Brooklyn to close the gap, it needs the old Williams who once gave Chris Paul a run for his money as the game's top point guard. That guy has appeared during the Nets' recent hot streak, averaging 20.0 points and 8.8 assists through the last four games.
If he sticks around, the Nets will regain their footing as one of the top teams in the East while resurfacing the debate of which New York team is better.
This precise snapshot of the season depicts the Knicks as the superior squad, but the Nets are thumping the accelerator to inch closer and closer behind their opposition.
By the end of the season, expect the door to open for more arguments over which team truly sits in the driver's seat as the state's top team.
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