NEW YORK — Since Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z became the faces of the Brooklyn Nets, the objectives of their mission have been made abundantly clear: Become relevant, move to Brooklyn, be better than the Knicks, steal the market.
General manager Billy King made the deals and Prokhorov wrote the checks. The Nets embarked on an unprecedented spending spree this past summer and not only retained Deron Williams, but also surround him with some capable talent. Clearly, they are relevant. And yes, they are in Brooklyn.
Whether or not they can best the Knicks remains to be seen. But crazier things have happened.
Despite an up and down season, the Knicks managed a respectable 36-30 record last season. Under Mike Woodson, they won 18 of their final 24 games and were a much better than advertised defensive team.
And coming into this season? One could (and probably should) argue that the Knicks will be better.
There are some obvious caveats, however. Though their uncertain point guard situation has been rectified, Raymond Felton’s conditioning and rekindling of the chemistry he once had with Amar’e Stoudemire will have a major say in how the team collectively fares in 2012-2013.
Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby must each find ways to contribute and stay healthy, despite their respectively ripe ages of 39 and 38.
Until Iman Shumpert is able to return to action, Ronnie Brewer will have to replace his defensive presence, and that will be no easy task.
And most importantly, Woodson will have to find a way to melt the collective talents of his team—and especially Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire— into a homogenous basketball machine.
But when you step back and collectively examine this team, it’ll become clear that the Knicks’ three most talented players—Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, and Stoudemire—are flanked by a unit whose collective basketball talent is far superior to the clique that took the court last season. Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin have been replaced by Brewer, Felton, and Kidd. Jared Jeffries and Josh Harrellson were essentially swapped out for Camby and Kurt Thomas. J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Shumpert all remain, and with a full training camp, Stoudemire’s reported desire to play in the post, and the coach that helped to steer the ship to a .750 win percentage over the final weeks of the season should have those that credit themselves with knowing the NBA a bit more optimistic about the Knicks’ immediate future.
But it would be a sad mistake to discount the marvelous job that King and his staff have done with retooling the Brooklyn Nets. Obviously, retaining Williams was a monumental move for the franchise, but so was the acquisition of Joe Johnson. Johnson, though supremely overpaid, is a great NBA guard. And his partnership with Williams will allow each to play off the ball more and free them of the burden of having to score 25 points each night to give their team a chance to win.
After being stuck in mediocrity in Atlanta, Johnson’s best fit in this league is probably as a second scorer who has the green light to look for and created his own offense 10-12 times per game, and take 6-7 open looks created for him by point guard penetration or post play kick-outs. Brook Lopez—if healthy—is at least a respectable presence in the paint and Williams has never had a problem with getting guys good looks. There is no reason to believe that this triumvirate will not work from day one.
As always, we’ll assume their health. And we’ll also assume—rather reasonably—that both Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries will continue to play the type of blue collar basketball that got each of them paid eight figure salaries by Prokhorov. And though the Nets’s relatively shallow bench leaves something to be desired, there’s no arguing that C.J. Watson and his acceptance of the veteran’s minimum was a major win.
MarShon Brooks, Reggie Evans, and rookie Mirza Teletovic will round out what should be a very respectable nine-man rotation for the Nets. The roster now features two perennial All-Stars (Williams and Johnson), one former All-Star (Wallace), and one 24-year old center, Lopez, who may have the potential to become one. The Nets will also benefit greatly from the fact that the constant speculation and distraction about Williams’ future is behind them.
Williams is fully committed to this team, and his effort and dedication will certainly reflect that.
So, the stage has been set. The 2012-2013 NBA season will be the year that the Knicks and Nets—playing in the same city for the first time—will begin a rivalry that will probably be more competitive than most think. There is a healthy sect of Knicks supporters who—over the years—have grown wary of Jim Dolan’s questionable antics and franchise decisions, and there’s a sect of Brooklynites who are eager to support a team that will be playing in their borough.
The stage has been set for an all-out turf war.
As it stands right now, it’s probably fair to say that the Knicks have a more talented roster. Its healthy starting five of Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler—on paper—is probably better than the Nets starting five of Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Humphries, and Lopez. That’s especially true when you consider that Chandler—last season’s Defensive Player of the Year—should have no trouble neutralizing Lopez.
And on paper, the top four Knicks off the bench—Kidd, Smith, Brewer, and Camby—may not contribute much offensively, but may not have to in order to ensure the team’s success, since all four are capable defenders. For the Nets, Watson, Brooks, Teletovic, and Evans probably couldn’t collectively outplay them, either.
But here’s the thing: Basketball isn’t played on paper.
And at this point, though the Knicks are a more talented bunch, their caveats and questionable chemistry make declarations of their Eastern Conference supremacy premature. And though the Nets have questions of their own, it’s clear that their top five pieces seem to fit a bit more naturally than those of the Knicks.
At the end of the day, the expectation here is that the NBA’s Atlantic Division—once its laughingstock—will be a dogfight. The Knicks, Nets, Celtics, and Sixers will have trouble distancing themselves from one another, and will probably be battling for playoff positioning during the final weeks of the regular season. It may be reminiscent of the 2008-2009 NBA season, when the Southwest Division saw four of its teams qualify for the playoffs.
That year, the San Antonio Spurs (54-28) won the division, but only finished up five games better than the fourth-in-the-division New Orleans Hornets (49-33).
On Thursday, November 1, the Nets will play the first game in their new building against the Knicks.
And over the next three years, New York City should be engulfed by a turf war that will probably pit superior talent against superior chemistry.
The battle for New York City is on. And it’s going to be more competitive than most probably think.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Yes, the San Antonio Spurs were playing, going for their eighth straight road win and their 12th straight W overall.
But truly, they weren’t going for it.
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were being rested by their coach on the second night of a back-to-back, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili were out nursing injuries, and there is only so much Cory Joseph a man can endure.
I reckon there are a lot of folks around San Antonio who got an hour or more extra sleep than they had planned for, doing what I did and shutting down for the night in the early stages of what turned out to be a 40-point (yes, 40!) loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, 137-97.
The Blazers’ 137 points were the most scored in an NBA game this season, and the 40-point loss was the first for the Spurs since they drafted Tim Duncan first overall in 1997 (I covered that draft, in Charlotte, and I have a distinct memory of a frustrated Peter May asking a grumpy Duncan: “Is this painful for you?” the day before the draft when Duncan kept giving short, clipped answers with a frown on his face).
From Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: “What the uninformed didn’t understand about (coach Gregg) Popovich’s banishment of his two stars was the utter lack of significance he places on anything as pedestrian as a win streak, even one that has reached double digits. “We’ve had the same goal for 15 years: To be the best team we can possibly be come playoff time,” Popovich said before the game. “We’ve never ever talked about what our record should be, whether we are going to win a championship, or not. Never. It’s never come up in any practice or game for 15 years. We just try to get better every day, and whatever happens, happens.” Nothing that happened on the court mattered to Popovich as much as his concern for the physical toll the season has been taking on Parker, who leads the Spurs in minutes played, and Duncan, his oldest player. “(Tim) and Tony need a rest,” he said before tipoff. “Everybody’s played a lot of games, and somewhere along the line, everybody gives somebody a rest, and I think we’ve reached that point. “Whether it’s three games in four nights or X nights before, I don’t know, I’ve lost track. But we’ve been going and going and going, and if we don’t do it now, I think we’re asking for trouble later.” The fact Duncan had played 41 minutes and 20 seconds in Saturday’s overtime victory in Los Angeles over the Clippers and 37:52 in Monday’s win over the Jazz factored into Popovich’s thinking.”
From Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The victory came in the first game that Portland coach Nate McMillan put (Jamal) Crawford in the starting lineup as his point guard, replacing struggling Raymond Felton. Both players responded well. Crawford was the model of efficiency, getting 20 points, eight assists and one turnover while shooting 6 for 8 from the field and 5 for 7 from three-point range. Felton, coming off the bench for the first time in 33 games with the Blazers, had one of his best shooting games of the season as he made a season-high four 3-pointers on eight attempts and finished with 16 points. The performance came after McMillan called Felton on Tuesday morning to inform him of the change. ”It’s one of those things where you go with it, be professional and do your job,” Felton said. … A Spurs team with just nine players suited up, two rookies starting and which for several stretches had no player taller than 6-foot-7 on the court. And the Blazers certainly wasted little time in taking advantage of it. The Blazers all but put the win away in the first quarter as Crawford and Felton flourished in their new roles. With the undersized Spurs trying to contain LaMarcus Aldridge with double teams, Crawford got plenty of open shots and was 4 for 4 from the field — all from three-point range — in the first, when he scored 15 points. Felton entered the game with 3:48 left in the first and came out firing, making his first three shots, all from three-point range, and scoring nine quick points. The guards led the Blazers on a 22-0 run that gave them a 41-23 lead after the first, one night after scoring a franchise-record-low seven points in the opening quarter against the Lakers.”
So with the Spurs riding a one-game losing streak, the longest win streak in the Association belongs to …
The answer is the Miami Heat, who haven’t lost since Feb. 8 and have been victorious by at least 12 points in each of their last seven games – all wins.
A 15-5 run in the early part of the fourth quarter provided the separation the Heat had been seeking all night, and their 120-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings, losers of six straight, gave them a head of steam heading into Thursday night’s nationally televised game against Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.
From Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: “They shot 56 percent as a team, Dwyane Wade had a virtuoso performance with 30 points, 10 assists and three steals and Mario Chalmers had one of the best shooting games of his career with six 3-pointers. But because it was against the Kings, who frankly played with excellent energy and focus for more than 40 minutes, and because the Heat have been slamming every opponent for two weeks, there were apologies offered from Miami’s locker room. “We talked about what is our motivation is right now, what are we trying to achieve?” Erik Spoelstra said, complaining his team played flat at times. “We wanted to try to improve and specifically work on our inconsistencies. Did we accomplish that completely? Not necessarily.” This was even as Kings coach Keith Smart said, “We were pretty close to a perfect game.” Rookie Isaiah Thomas had a 20-point third quarter, the Kings had 24 assists and Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton combined to shoot 18 of 34 and score 44 points. The Kings hit 13 3-pointers and out-rebounded the Heat. And Sacramento was still down by 18 points in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, this supposed so-so effort behind them, the Heat quickly forgot it and turned their attention to the next game. Which happens to be against another sub-.500 opponent that’s actually lost two of its past three games to other sub-.500 teams. ”It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be electrifying,” LeBron James said. “It’s going to be one of the most watched games we’ve had in a long time.” … Of course James means Jeremy Lin (and Carmelo Anthony) and the New York Knicks, who are due in town Thursday night. Ticket prices for that one are spiking toward regular-season records in Miami and there are rumors that two presidents — Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, both of whom are scheduled to be in Miami for speaking engagements — might show up.”
There were only three other games in the NBA, two of which provided more entertainment value than anything put forth by the Heat (26-7) or the Spurs (23-10) — owners of two of the league’s four best records.
- In Cleveland, Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Detroit 101-100. Irving and Alonzo Gee combined for 30 of Cleveland’s 35 points in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers rallied from a 72-55 hole. Gee scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth. His dunk put Cleveland ahead by six with 3:09 to play, but Detroit responded with five straight points before Irving’s basket put the Cavaliers ahead 95-92. Brandon Knight’s 3-pointer tied the game with 1:02 to play, but Gee rebounded his own miss with a dunk that put Cleveland ahead for good.
- In Indianapolis, the Pacers won for the first time when surrendering at least 100 points. All-Star Roy Hibbert had a career-high 30 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Pacers to a 117-108 win in overtime against the Hornets. Paul George scored 20 points and Darren Collison had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Pacers, winners of three straight after using a 10-0 run in overtime to take control.
- In Memphis, we had the only game in which neither team reached 100 points. The Grizzlies were up 30-10 on the Sixers after one quarter, and Philadelphia scored just 18 points in the third quarter and 16 in the fourth of an 89-76 loss. Marc Gasol had 15 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks for Memphis, which is 18-12 in Zach Randolph’s absence and won for the fifth time in its last six games. The Sixers have lost four in a row but still hold a four-game lead over second-place New York in the Atlantic Division.