By Ian Teti
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Last season, the Nets beat the Knicks twice in the four games that they played against each other. Brooklyn proved that they could compete for the Big Apple’s basketball crown. And now, after a monumental offseason for Mikhail Prokhorov’s squad, the Nets are looking to make a statement and dethrone the Knicks in just their second season in Brooklyn.
There’s no doubt that Nets-Knicks games this season are going to be wildly entertaining, probably even more so than the Miami Heat vs. anyone. This will be the season when the Nets-Knicks rivalry will blow up and evolve into one of the greatest in pro sports.
Let’s look at the possible matchups for the new Big Apple rivalry, and see who has the advantage, assuming that each team has a healthy roster.
CENTER: BROOK LOPEZ VS. TYSON CHANDLER
A defensive center vs. an offensive one. It’s clear that Chandler will outrebound Lopez, and he should be able to guard him in the paint. Lopez chucks up way too many mid-range jump shots each game. If I’m Chandler, I’m going to force him to beat me with that, and eliminate his inside game.
Offensively, Chandler isn’t too much of a threat. It’s crucial to box him out so he isn’t able to use his patented “swat the ball back to half-court” method of keeping the possession. But I don’t think Lopez is strong enough to box him out, let alone stop Chandler from getting his easy put-backs around the rim.
POWER FORWARD: ANDREA BARGNANI VS. KEVIN GARNETT
Knicks fans, if you think that Bargnani has even a small chance of guarding Garnett, you better reconsider because you are about to be embarrassed. We are talking about a future Hall of Famer going up against a historic draft bust.
If Bargnani tires to guard Garnett in the paint, he will post him up all night long. That turn-around, fade-away jumper hasn’t quit just yet. If Bargnani looses track of Garnett and lets him get open around the top of the key, KG is going to hit that jumper all day.
The dilemma for the Knicks is that Bargnani isn’t a great rebounder, isn’t as strong as Garnett and he won’t be able to guard him inside or outside the paint.
SMALL FORWARD: CARMELO ANTHONY VS. PAUL PIERCE
This matchup will be legendary. Pierce was once considered one of, if not the, best small forwards in the NBA, and now Anthony is considered one of the current greats.
But in this day and age, Pierce’s jump shot is going downhill while Anthony’s is only getting better. Anthony, who isn’t a superb defender, can let Pierce shoot the three with a hand in his face. He can let Pierce try and get around him, but in most cases, it will end up in a brick or a turnover. Pierce isn’t as explosive as he once was. He gets out of control and he’s not going to beat Anthony off the dribble.
And Anthony, who should expect Pierce to be right in his grill at all times, has proven that he can hit jump shots with a hand in his face. He’s proven that he can go by most defenders with the dribble drive, and Pierce is not an exception to that. Anthony will be outrebounding, outscoring and simply outplaying Pierce in this matchup.
Yes, I bleed Orange, making my opinion a little biased, but this is a clear one.
SHOOTING GUARD: IMAN SHUMPERT VS. JOE JOHNSON
Both of these two-guards are elite perimeter defenders in the NBA. But they both have a lot to prove.
Johnson has established himself as premier deep threat. That’s fairly obvious if you watched a single Nets game last season. But his time is winding down, and his accomplishments are far from what one would consider a great career in the NBA. If there is one season where Johnson has to absolutely prove that he can win, it’s now.
Shumpert will one day be one of the most desired guards in the NBA. His build and defensive abilities are unique, but he needs to become an offensive threat. That one explosive put-back dunk he had in Game 2 vs. the Pacers last postseason was a glimpse of what Shumpert can be: an all-around threat. His three-point shooting is most likely (hopefully) being worked on as we speak, and once he is comfortable driving the lane and shooting off the dribble, he will have proved that he can play with the best. That test will start with being guarded by Johnson.
While I do believe that Shumpert has the potential to eventually overpass Johnson on the court, I don’t think that time is now. There is no immediate threat to Shumpert’s offensive game that can harm Johnson. Johnson can play laid-back defense and force Shumpert to beat him from long range or jumpers off the dribble.
And while Shumpert will play strong defense against Johnson, the Nets’ guard is bound to hit a couple right in Shumpert’s face.
POINT GUARD: RAYMOND FELTON VS. DERON WILLIAMS
Williams should go right by Felton every play. He is a faster and smarter point guard. It’s easy to rattle Felton and force him into bad decisions and turnovers. And now with options around the rim, Williams can drive and dish and not have to worry about passing to an offensively-plagued Reggie Evans.
This is where every team should want to have an advantage. A second unit that can outplay another team’s can either expand a lead or make up for lost ground.
The Nets added Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, who boosted their bench. Shaun Livingston might still have some game left in him, but Tyshawn Taylor has to break out this year and prove that he can run the court. He should be put at backup point guard over Livingston.
Evans isn’t much help besides being a rebounding machine, but Andray Blatche will be a key piece to the Nets’ bench, as he is a versatile center.
But the Knicks have a lot of options that they can use outside of their starting five. J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni proved that they can be an effective one and two on the court. Metta World Peace will be explosive, and it will seem like a starter is out on the court when he’s in with the second unit. Amar’e Stoudemire needs to prove he belongs on this team, and if healthy, I believe he will be a major scoring threat.
I’m a Tim Hardaway, Jr. fan and think that New York is a great spot for him. He can learn and develop, if he’s given the opportunity to do so on the court.
Because of depth and experience, the Knicks have a stronger second unit and more options to throw at the Nets.
Advantage: Knicks’ Bench
So where does that leave us?
I think that the Nets will shock NYC and emerge as the premier New York basketball team this season. I think the old-heads — Garnett and Pierce — still have some fuel left in their tank, and while it won’t be easy, they’ll be able to beat the Knicks. Brooklyn’s starting five has the potential to outplay a lot of what the Knicks will throw at them, lineup wise, and their bench can hopefully be one that can contend.
Despite who takes the series this upcoming season, this year will spark a thrilling and lasting rivalry between the two boroughs.
You can follow Ian on Twitter @icteti.
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