Here we go, Knicks-Nets, the matchup everyone's been waiting for. Let's look at three main things to watch for Monday, starting at 7 p.m. ET at the new Barclays Center, and it all comes down to defense.
As Rasheed Wallace said Sunday afternoon after the Knicks' win over the Pistons, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships."
1. Can the Knicks limit the Nets' inside scoring? This could be where the game is decided. While the Knicks average only 33.3 points in the paint (second-worst in the NBA) and 11.8 second-chance points (eighth-worst), the Nets' numbers in those two areas are 43.0 (10th-best) and 15.5 (fourth-best). They're led by arguably the best center duo in the league in starter Brook Lopez (a team-high 19.0 points per game) and backup Andray Blatche (9.0 PPG). Obviously, Deron Williams (16.8 PPG) and Joe Johnson (15.8 PPG) are two of the best at getting in the lane.
Also, starting power forward Kris Humphries is extremely active down low, and he'll definitely pose a threat to the undersized Carmelo Anthony, who's had some trouble guarding power forwards. Offensively, he's taken advantage of the slower mismatches, which he should do again against the Nets.
Overall, the Nets' starting five are big and active -- even Williams and Johnson have size at their positions -- and that's the biggest issue the Knicks face entering Monday's game. Mike Woodson has been using a smaller lineups, and he's been cautious about playing Marcus Camby and has sat Kurt Thomas. With Tyson Chandler a tad overworked, those two bigs should be called upon tonight. Fortunately, Wallace has stepped up on both ends of the floor.
2. Don't forget about the Nets' bench. Blatche, shooting guard MarShon Brooks and point guard C.J. Watson are major catalysts in second quarters. In fact, the Nets have the No. 1 average second-quarter scoring margin out of any team (plus-5.0). The Knicks are all the way down at minus-0.9 (their only negative for any period). Their defense needs to be consistent all the way through because the Nets are one of the deepest teams in the league.
One of the big reasons the Knicks sometimes struggle in second periods is that Anthony and J.R. Smith are really the only two scoring threats. Steve Novak will especially be needed again against the Nets. (He was 5-for-7 from downtown Sunday afternoon.) His 3-point shooting is significant for momentum changes and, therefore, key runs.
3. Can the Knicks keep D-Will cool? The Knicks are one of the best at contesting and guarding jump shots, but they're not so good doing that beyond the arc. Opponents are shooting 39.3 percent from downtown (the second-best mark in the league). The Nets attempt a fair share of 3-pointers (20.3 per game), and Avery Johnson will try to take advantage of that Monday night. That's where Williams comes in.
While he's been struggling with his shooting lately (27-for-82 in his past six games) -- he's been dealing with hand, wrist and elbow injuries -- he'll be looking for that long ball off the pick-and-roll. The Knicks need to make sure their P&R defense guarding Williams, Johnson and Lopez is airtight. Any slippage will result in way too many opportunities in the paint, where the Nets obviously capitalize a great deal.
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