After starting the season slowly, both New York teams have shown glimpses of turning things around. How will the rest of the season shake out for the Nets and Knicks?
1. Fact or fiction: The Nets will make the playoffs.
Ian Begley, ESPN New York: Fact. As bad as Jason Kidd's club has been at times, Brooklyn would have to try harder to miss the playoffs than make them in the awful Eastern Conference. Even with Brook Lopez out and Deron Williams dealing with ankle issues, this team has enough depth (Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko) to compete in the watered-down East.
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: Fact. Incredibly, after last night's comeback victory against the Warriors, the Nets have the league's longest current winning streak. With teams and players in the already-shoddy Eastern Conference continuing to drop like it's the Battle of the Somme, a healthy Williams and a slight uptick in performance from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce plus the return of Andrei Kirilenko should get them in.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Fiction. They badly want to make the playoffs but I'm guessing they don't have enough guys. Lopez is out for the season, Williams has problems in both ankles. They've found something with the return of Kirilenko, but he never stays healthy for long. While it's smart, as a general rule, to take the team that wants a postseason over the tanking outfits, Brooklyn lacks bodies.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN: Fact. In fact, I think there's a reasonable chance they could win a round. They play better when the game is slower, which it is in the playoffs. They're stocked with playoff veterans.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: Fact. Even without Lopez, they have enough to make the playoffs. They just can't afford to lose any more players to serious injuries. Kidd will improve as a coach and the Nets are hoping Williams will eventually return stronger.
2. Fact or fiction: The Knicks will make the playoffs.
Begley: Fact. As wacky as things have been in Knick-land, they, like the Nets, have enough talent to make the playoffs in the NBA's junior varsity conference. As long as Toronto eventually decides to tank, the Nets and Knicks should finish first and second in the Atlantic -- good enough to make the playoffs.
Silverman: Fact. The Knicks have been as plagued by injuries as their borough brethren and the core of the squad that won 54 games last season is still in place, should Mike Woodson deign to reinstate Carmelo Anthony as his full-time power forward and return to the two-PG, small ball style that generated the NBA's third-best offensive rating.
Strauss: Fact. I don't care how many shoes J.R. Smith unties. I'm picking the Knicks to make the playoffs so long as both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are upright. That combo is enough for success in the East. The Knicks have been through a lot already, but they should be healthy enough to recover.
Windhorst: Fact. I don't feel great about this answer, I'd say I'm leaning that way. Ultimately, they have enough talent to squeeze enough to get in. Which is to say they have Melo. Plus I think some of their "contenders" may be taking steps back.
Youngmisuk: Fact. I still think Carmelo will get going and the sorry state of the East keeps them alive.
3. Who will win the Atlantic Division?
Begley: The Knicks. Recent results aside, I'm still pretty convinced that Toronto will trade away more assets and waive the Wiggins Flag on this season. That will leave a void at the top. The Knicks, presuming they continue to get healthy, are in better position for regular-season success than the Nets, due to Lopez's and Williams' health issues.
Silverman: The Toronto Raptors. Despite GM Masai Ujiri's best efforts to strip the roster and secure the proper combination of pingpong balls to net the Canadian wunderkind, Andrew Wiggins (or an equally promising American collegian), they've gone 10-5 since shedding Rudy Gay, including impressive wins over the Thunder and Pacers, and show zero signs of slowing down.
Strauss: The Raptors have proved themselves competent, and that suffices in this conference. While they lack star power, the Raps have a nice collection of good players. Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross comprises more talent than most teams out East can cope with on a given night. Now that Gay's selfish style has been jettisoned, they're playing better on offense and defense.
Windhorst: Perhaps I'm a fool, but I'm still saying the Nets. I just think over the long haul, talent and experience win out.
Youngmisuk: The Nets. It may take a while but I think the Nets will catch the Raptors and Toronto may still have some more trading to do before the deadline, which could make things easier for the Nets and Knicks to catch up.
4. Knicks/Nets/both/neither: Will make the second round.
Begley: Whichever team wins the division has a pretty good shot at the second round. The Atlantic Division winner is probably looking at a matchup with Atlanta or Washington. Neither seems like a favorite in a seven-game series against a healthy Nets or Knicks team. Based on my answer above, I'll take the Knicks.
Silverman: Neither. The only caveat being that they might end up facing each other in the 4-5 matchup; that would lend credence to the budding rivalry and certainly exacerbate the animosity between owners James Dolan and Mikhail Prokhorov. In all likelihood, both teams are looking at quick exits at the hands of the Heat, Pacers, or the aforementioned surging Raptors.
Strauss: Neither. It's hard to imagine these teams beating Miami, Indiana, or even Toronto at this juncture. I could see either of the New York teams either being or beating a potential fourth or fifth seed, but I also wouldn't bet on either squad ascending that high. Defenses this bad usually don't make it to the second round.
Windhorst: Nets, for reasons I've listed above. Talent wins out usually.
Youngmisuk: The Nets will make the second round if they have a healthy Deron Williams. The Nets will only go as far as Deron will take them in the playoffs. In order for either the Nets or Knicks to advance, they must avoid playing either Indiana or Miami in the first round as an eighth or seventh seed.
5. Knicks or Nets: Which team has the brighter future?
Begley: I'm taking the Knicks, but it's like choosing between the lesser of two evils. Neither team has a good cap situation, but the Knicks will have space before the Nets. Neither team has an abundance of draft picks. But, again, the Knicks edge out the Nets in this category. So Jim Dolan's team wins by default. But neither franchise is in great shape.
Silverman: The Knicks, but neither team's future is full of sunshine and lollipops. Both teams are stripped to the bone in terms of draft picks, and the rosters are equally clogged with exorbitant, practically untradeable contracts. The outlook is still bleak, but the fact that the Knicks will have a chance to reload a year sooner than Brooklyn gives them a slim advantage.
Strauss: The Nets could lose out on five straight draft picks, and they're capped out at least through 2016. Finally, Dolan has met his match in the "ruined future" department. Who knew it was even possible?
Windhorst: Can I say Raptors?
Youngmisuk: I actually think both teams have murky futures. The Nets' future is complicated by Brook Lopez's health. Will he be the same player after another surgery on his foot? If he will be as good as he was and can stay healthy, the Nets' future is better. The Knicks' future hangs on Carmelo's free agency and whether he wants to stay.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Brian Windhorst writes for ESPN.com. Ian Begley and Ohm Youngmisuk write for ESPN New York. Robert Silverman and Ethan Sherwood Strauss write for TrueHoop.
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