Iman Shumpert's return has sparked a listless Knicks team.
Heading into this game, the Knicks are at their weakest, while the Nets are playing their best basketball of the season.
Since Dec. 17, New York has been playing .500 ball and is currently without Raymond Felton at point guard. He has been nursing a fractured finger since the Knicks' Christmas Day bout against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn has surged since the firing of Avery Johnson. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo seems to have reignited the listless Nets, who have gone 10-2 since the switch.
Once comfortable atop the Atlantic Division, the Knicks now lead the Nets by just two games. Will New York be able to beat Brooklyn without Felton in the lineup?
That's where Shumpert comes into play, giving New York a boost at both ends of the floor.
The second-year guard was quickly embraced by Knicks fans due to his suffocating perimeter defense.
He was four votes shy of making an NBA All-Defensive Team as a rookie, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com. In his return from a torn ACL against the Detroit Pistons, Shumpert displayed the athleticism to disrupt on the defensive end and the energy to spark the Knicks offense.
Shumpert's play will be crucial if the Knicks want to destabilize Deron Williams. Brooklyn's star point guard has hit less than 40 percent of his shots in Nets losses. If Shumpert can use his limited minutes to frustrate Williams, the Knicks' chances will improve considerably.
Granted, Shumpert cannot replace Felton's offensive contributions at point guard. Yet if you look at what Felton has done against the Nets, that's a good thing.
In the previous three games against Brooklyn, Felton has been abysmal, putting up a combined 24 points and 16 assists while going 10-of-46 from the field.
While the Knicks have missed Felton's penetration ability on the offensive end, Williams and the Nets have his number. Shumpert can dish the ball and run the pick-and-roll himself, but that won't be his biggest offensive impact. At the very least, he won't come close to matching Felton's inefficiency against the Nets.
New York has lacked some life without Felton, but that's exactly what the dynamic Shumpert provides. Though the Nets may be making a run at the Knicks, Shumpert will remind them that this is still the Knicks' city.