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Schmeelk: The Loss Of Brook Lopez Takes Juice Out Of Knicks-Nets Game

Brook Lopez (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Brook Lopez (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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There is far less hype surrounding the second meeting between the Knicks and the Nets on Tuesday night than there was for their first game a couple of weeks ago.

It’s understandable, since nothing is ever quite as exciting as the first time a rivalry is joined. But there’s more to it than that, as Brook Lopez is out for the Nets tonight.

There isn’t much of an argument that Lopez has been the Nets’ best player this year, scoring more than 18 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field. His rebounding numbers are still very low at 6.8, but he has been a better defender, averaging 2.5 blocks per game. In the offseason, I criticized the contract that Lopez received (four years, $60 million), and what you are seeing right now is why.

It was never about Lopez’s ability on the offensive side of the floor. He could always score and that continued this year.

With his offensive skill you could live with his shortcomings on the boards and on defense, but the injuries are something else. This is now his third foot injury in two years, and even though it was only a minor sprain, it is certainly a bad omen for things to come.

It is tough to invest $15 million a year in someone who is constantly one step away from his season being over. Foot injuries don’t usually end well for big men. Ask Yao Ming. Ask Bill Walton. Zydrunas Ilgauskas lost a lot of years to foot injuries as well.

That was the risk the Nets took, and really had to take. With all of that money already tied up in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, any hope of getting under the cap to sign another big-time player was impossible. The Nets weren’t going to get another player — let alone a big man of Lopez’s caliber — with those resources. Now Brooklyn is living with that contract, the same way that the Knicks are living with Amar’e Stoudemire’s.

The difference is that the Knicks are far better equipped to win without Stoudemire than the Nets are without Lopez, which has been made pretty clear this season. With Williams and Johnson both starting slow, the Nets have looked lost without their big man. During their four game losing streak, the Nets have lost to both the Bucks and Warriors in their building. Andray Blatche can provide scoring to mitigate the loss of Lopez, but he is far from a presence on defense.

One of two things is going to happen tonight. Either Tyson Chandler is going to dominate the paint on the boards and pick-and-roll from start to finish, or the Nets will collapse on him and the Knicks will have a ton of open threes.

Williams did an excellent job defending Raymond Felton the first time these two teams played, but without an intimidator protecting the basket, his job will be a lot tougher. Unless Williams or Johnson get hot offensively and carry the Nets for long periods, the Knicks should get their first win in Brooklyn tonight. It might be one by a big margin, too.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- I bet there will be more Knicks fans at Barclays Center on Tuesday night than there were the first time these two teams met, which was supposed to be the Nets’ first game ever in the building. I’m looking forward to the atmosphere.

- Williams has been downright bad this year, shooting just 39 percent from the field and 28 percent from behind the arc. He also has a higher turnover ratio than Carmelo Anthony, Jamal Crawford, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. I realize that he is banged up but right now, but he is on track to have his lowest PER since his second season in the league back in 2007. The Nets need more from the guy that they have tied their franchise to.

- The Knicks showed over the weekend why they need not only Anthony, but also Stoudemire. The Bulls played the Knicks better defensively than anyone has all year long, and the offense struggled. Felton turned into the first or second option, and he is not good enough of a scorer to take on such a burden. Once Stoudemire gets back he can be more like a third option, worrying about running the pick-and-roll and setting up his teammates.

- Kurt Thomas gave the Knicks quality minutes over the weekend, and he finally found that mid-range shot. It was great to see.

- Johnson has tough matchups against the Knicks. Whether it is Ronnie Brewer or Anthony, they have the strength and quickness to lock him down defensively.

You can follow me on Twitter here for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

Do you agree that the second meeting isn’t as exciting as the first one, or are you more excited this time because it’s a rematch? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…