The New York Knicks will face the Brooklyn Nets in a rivalry that was once heated but now "stinks," according to many involved. The game on Thursday night will come down to a few factors, but one of the more intriguing ones is the matchup in the paint. Both teams have some key contributors in that area, and what goes on down low could sway the game either way.
Brook Lopez's Return Will Pay Dividends for Nets' Interior Play
Brooklyn will have Lopez back after missing time with a sprained left ankle. His 7'0", 275-pound frame will be a big advantage for the Nets, as the Knicks have few interior defenders to stop him.
Lopez is shooting 51.2 percent in the paint, according to NBA.com, with 54.5 percent coming unassisted. He's one of the best low-post scorers in the NBA, so Lopez holding his own on the low block comes as no surprise.
He also has a solid mid-range jump shot, which will keep defenders honest when Lopez takes it into the paint. He shoots 61.3 percent on cuts to the basket, according to SynergySports, which is indicative of defenders coming out of the paint to defend the jumper while Lopez makes his way inside.
New York is still without Tyson Chandler, so Lopez will most likely be matched up against Andrea Bargnani, a notoriously poor interior defender. Suffice it to say Lopez has an advantage, thus giving Brooklyn the upper hand in the paint offensively.
New York's Offensive Rebounding
The Knicks are a poor rebounding team overall, but they are solid on the offensive glass. Much of that has to do with the team's poor shooting this season, converting just 41.8 percent. New York snatches 11.4 offensive rebounds per game, just 0.3 rebounds away from ranking as a top-10 team in that category.
In appropriate fashion, the Nets allow 11.7 offensive rebounds per game.
Lopez pulls down a lowly 3.7 defensive rebounds per game in 28.9 minutes. As such, the biggest guy on the floor for Brooklyn may not prove to help in stopping what New York can do in terms of offensive rebounding.
In the absence of Chandler, Carmelo Anthony is getting 2.8 offensive rebounds per game. He's a terrific finisher in the paint (45.8 percent in the lane, 56.8 percent in the restricted area) and is a great second jumper to get rebounds.
The Knicks have seven players averaging 0.8 offensive rebounds or better so far this season, hence it will be a turning point in Thursday's game.
Will Brooklyn Shut New York Out of the Paint?
Courtesy of TeamRankings, Brooklyn allows 39.9 points in the paint this season. The Nets are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, but they do a solid job defending the interior nonetheless.
With so many perimeter scorers, the Knicks rarely score in the paint, with just 34.6 points per game. Considering the Nets allow more than what New York normally scores, there's a margin for the latter team to do better.
Yet as aforesaid, the Knicks have few interior scorers to do it.
Realistically, Brooklyn has better interior defenders than New York does interior scorers. With so much emphasis placed on three-point shooting and scoring from the perimeter, it's possible the Nets will dominate the interior.
The Knicks can play the interior, as evidenced by their offensive rebounding numbers. What seems to be the case is that the team cannot finish plays in the paint. New York shoots just 40.2 percent in the paint according to NBA.com, thus Brooklyn may make easy work of their efforts inside.
What happens in the paint Thursday night will play a big role for the team that wins. The Knicks, called "the laughingstock of the league right now" by Anthony, could use the victory more than the injury-ravaged Nets. The latter team can at least use that as an excuse, while New York has few.
In any case, the interior play of both teams will decide the outcome and the current perceptions of both.