Most fans would be happy to see one star battle it out with another on the court. But Nets and especially Knicks fans have been spoiled with two stars each (Deron Williams and Brook Lopez in Newark, and Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York). Even though Williams and Stoudemire are both out tonight -- Williams underwent surgery today on his right wrist and Stoudemire has a sprained left ankle and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Pacers -- there's still a compelling game to watch.
Here are three things to watch for tonight when the ball is tipped at the Prudential Center.
In Williams' absence, it will be up to only one guy to take care of back-up business: Jordan Farmar. And the two-time Lakers champion and five-year veteran point guard has the goods (not the greats like D-Will) to make things happen tonight. In 14 starts this season in replace of Williams and former Net Devin Harris, Farmar has averaged 13.9 points and nine assists (on the season, he's only at 9.4 ppg and 4.8 apg). Besides his first-step quickness and fearlessness driving to the basket, Farmar is most dangerous from 3-point territory. In six of those 14 starts, Farmar made three or more from distance. The Knicks have to make it a point of closing out on the Nets' pick-and-roll to create less space for Farmar to get his shot off.
The Nets will also be without power forward Kris Humphries, who is done for the season with a sprained right ankle. While they'll miss his rebounding (10.4 per game), the Nets, especially shooting guard Anthony Morrow who's returning tonight after missing two games with left knee tendinitis, can pick up the big fellas's scoring (10 ppg). On the flip side, the Knicks have no one close to being Stoudemire's stunt double, so they'll need everyone to step up their game, especially Landry Fields and Shawne Williams to attack the rack more. Look for athletic power forward Derrick Brown, who's played in the last two games, to possibly see some additional minutes. He provided a solid spark on Tuesday in a win over the Raptors, scoring seven points in nearly 10 minutes.
BROOK IS BLOWING UP
In the history of NBA centers over the course of one season, there has never been a worse rebounder who's played more than 30 minutes per game than Brook Lopez. Yes, he scores an All-Star-like 20 points per game, but he averages just 6.0 boards in 35.2 minutes of action (a decline from 8.1 and 8.7 in his first two seasons). But could a transformation be under way? In his last two games, Lopez has looked like an entirely different player, averaging 34.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He's coming off two straight 30-point performances for the second time this season. While Stoudemire is a poor one-on-one defender, he makes up for it with his athleticism and reaction time. So the Knicks will miss his 1.9 blocks per game tonight (tied for seventh in the league with Tim Duncan and Al Jefferson).
MELO (3-POINT) MANIA
Melo said the attention to 3-pointers in Mike D'Antoni's offensive system has motivated him to practice shooting from a few steps back. And it's paid off. He's connected on five 3s in back-to-back games for the first time in his career (his career-high is six, which came against the Pacers on January 23). Melo's matchup with Nets small forward Sasha Vujacic should make things relatively easy for him tonight. He did have 39 points (3-of-4 from the downtown), 10 rebounds and five assists in their last meeting, a 120-116 win on March 30.
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