Lichtenstein: Boast From Nets’ Johnson A Real-World Airball
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By Steve Lichtenstein
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It appears that Brooklyn guard Joe Johnson is living in the same alternate dimension that Jets coach Rex Ryan calls home.
What a grand place it must be—Mark Sanchez is among the best young quarterbacks, New York’s defense holds down all foes, and the Jets are in the Super Bowl.
For Johnson, it’s a world where his Nets are superior to the Knicks.
Back on Earth, the first-place Knicks showed last night just how vast the distance between the two rivals has become by defeating the Nets, 100-86, in Round 3 of the “Battle of the Boroughs” at Madison Square Garden.
Right now, despite Johnson’s certitude, the two teams are not even close. While the Nets have used every boo-boo to excuse their 2-8 December stretch, the Knicks pretty much shrugged off the ankle injury that sidelined superstar forward Carmelo Anthony for four games to maintain their torrid start.
And, thanks to Anthony’s 31 points in his first game back last night, the Knicks moved a full six games up on Brooklyn in the standings after only 25 games.
Forget about being better than the Knicks. How about making sure they’re better than the Sixers so they can at least make it to the postseason? The Nets have a few days off to work on how to turn around this latest three-game skid before hosting Philadelphia on Sunday.
Looking back, it would seem that the Nets’ 96-89 overtime victory in the teams’ first meeting had to have been a fluke, merely the result of an off-shooting night from the Knicks’ usually-reliable three-point marksmen.
That special night seems so long ago, back when the Nets were the NBA’s darlings in their inaugural season in their sparkling new arena in New York City.
Johnson’s recent reiteration might have just been him taking a cue from his boss, owner Mikhail Prohkorov, who went out of his way over the summer to not only steal headlines with player moves but also to tweak the Knicks in interviews and on billboards to fuel the rivalry. Whatever the reason, the issue is now moot, at least for a month until the two teams meet for the final time this regular season.
That’s because the Knicks toyed with the Nets last night as if they were playing one-on-one with their kid brother. Instead of playing lefty, the Knicks’ handicap was forward Ronnie Brewer. The bricklaying Brewer, who somehow managed to put up a minus-13 in 15 minutes, allowed the Nets to comfortably cover the other four Knicks with their five, helping them keep the game close into the third quarter.
After five minutes and with the Nets ahead, 61-57, Knicks coach Mike Woodson decided the tease had gone far enough. Out came Brewer. Woodson then forced the Nets to match up with the Knicks’ four deadly perimeter shooters spread across the court along with center Tyson Chandler.
Just like that, the rout was on. The Knicks outscored the Nets, 41-19, over the next 16 ½ minutes.
In that stretch, the Knicks erased all doubt over which team reigns over New York. The Knicks have more weapons, including a go-to scorer down the stretch, play better team defense, and are better-coached. Other than that, Joe, the Nets are right there.
Once again, Nets coach Avery Johnson had no answers for his club’s second-half swoon. This time it wasn’t just an inept offense, which dies every night like clockwork from an overdose of shot-clock beating three-point attempts.
No, the Nets’ defense was just as ugly, unable to stop the Knicks’ rain of three-pointers, Chandler’s rolls to the rim, or Anthony, who has torched the Nets for an aggregate 111 points in the three games.
Johnson tried a small lineup, but that meant Chandler had little resistance wreaking havoc inside with alley-oop dunks and back-tap offensive rebounds. He tried doubling Anthony to get the ball out of his hands, but the Knicks’ ball movement created open looks for J.R. Smith and Chris Copeland.
Even with sharpshooters Rasheed Wallace sidelined with a foot injury and Steve Novak home with the flu, the Knicks still shot a respectable 38% from downtown. Only point guard Raymond Felton will be glad to get a break from the Nets as he once again struggled to find his stroke in a 4-for-15 performance (for the three games, Felton has shot a combined 10-for-46 from the floor, including 1-for-8 from three-point territory).
Meanwhile, the Nets couldn’t take advantage of one of Deron Williams’ better shooting nights. The Nets’ point guard, who entered the game with a career-worst 39% field goal percentage, went 7-for-12 playing far more aggressively than in recent games. Maybe it was the excitement from the few extra pick-and-rolls coach Johnson set up for him and center Brook Lopez.
Joe Johnson, however, came up small after talking so big. He hit three three-pointers and was perfect in four free throw attempts, but overall shot 5-for-14 from the field with two turnovers while disappearing from view for large stretches.
Unlike Johnson, counterpart Jason Kidd impacts games even when his shot is not falling. Kidd filled up the stat sheet last night with eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
And Kidd has always been the master of the understatement. Back when he was traded to the Nets in 2001, he predicted a 40-win season, not a championship, and then he led the Nets to their first of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
Kidd knows it’s still too early in the season to make bold predictions about his club and he’s certainly not going to get into a ridiculous verbal feud with Johnson over who’s better.
All that gets decided on the court. In the real world, where the Nets should be more worried about the possibility of having to look at the postseason from outside like the Jets instead of fantasizing about being better than the Knicks.
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The Knicks are far better than the Nets, right Brooklyn fans? Come on, it’s cathartic. Sound off on your team’s woes in the comments…