Are the Knicks, Nets legitimate?

Posted: 01/13/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

It’s time to admit it. The two New York teams have looked revitalized of late, and maybe there is something to all of NYC’s hyping-up of the two teams. Remember, the Knicks and Nets are teams with so much more talent than most of their Eastern Conference brethren. Each were projected to finish comfortably above .500, and many projected at least 50 wins for one or both. As you know, the season hasn’t worked out that way. Both New York teams have underperformed, and that’s an understatement. They both have, to put it more bluntly, stunk. But since the New Year, there has been hope. Six teams in the Eastern Conference have winning records in their last 10 games. There are the usual suspects, Miami and Indiana. There are the easy to spot teams that are excelling immediately after trading a star player. Toronto, 18-17 on the season and no longer in tank mode, is 9-3 in their last 12 and 11-5 since the trade of Rudy Gay. More surprisingly, Chicago is riding a five game winning streak, and recently traded Luol Deng. So Miami, Indiana, Toronto, and Chicago are all over .500 in their last 10. The last two? You guessed it. The two New York teams. The Knicks have won four in a row and are 5-1 in the New Year with signature wins over San Antonio and Miami. The Nets are also 5-1 in the New Year with wins over three top five teams: Golden State, Oklahoma City, and the aforementioned Heat. So it’s clear that both teams have been better this month. But is it sustainable?

Brooklyn Nets:
The Nets, at 15-22, are in the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. That’s how bad the conference is, and it’ll be easy for them to make the playoffs. But the playoffs aren’t an accurate gauge of whether or not the team has turned the corner. Instead, we look at the stats. In January, Deron Williams finally started to play to his potential, averaging 25 points per game. But he only played two games before succumbing to injury, which might make the team’s achievements even more impressive. They’ve been doing it without their two best players, Williams and Brook Lopez. It’s not that the Nets have scored better in the month of January. In fact, they have scored three fewer points per game this month than they have all season. The change comes defensively. The Nets gave up 100+ points 18 times in their first 31 games. They haven’t done that once in their six January games, and they’ve held powerful offenses like OKC, Miami, Golden State, and to a lesser extent Toronto and Atlanta below their season averages. The change is puzzling. The biggest minute boosts this month have gone to Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston. Both are solid defensively, but neither is shutdown. But maybe their improvement does have something to do with minute allocation. Increasingly, Brooklyn has been running a small lineup, with three guards (Williams being replaced by Alan Anderson to go along with Livingston and Joe Johnson), a small ball four (Pierce), and either Andray Blatche or Kevin Garnett at center. Even without Williams, the lineup is working. The question is: will it continue to work? My verdict is no. At least until Williams returns, the current streak is just a mirage. They are far too old, and have far too many holes without their two most explosive players, to go on a long streak or continue playing consistently above average basketball.

New York Knicks:
The Knicks’ success also has a lot to do with defense. They are allowing 92 points per game in January, compared to 98 on the season. But their improved defense is only part of the equation. Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih are helping immensely, and they are getting easier shots. They’re shooting 47% in January compared to 44% on the season. The big change in their team has been the benching of J.R. Smith and the improved play of Iman Shumpret, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Felton. It’s clear that Carmelo Anthony can’t do it by himself, and he needs a supporting cast to help him share the load and cover up for his defensive, um, deficiencies. This run has happened with a disgruntled Smith and an injured Tyson Chandler. Depending on who they get in a possible trade for Smith, this team could continue to excel. Even without a happy smith, they’ve played well, so my verdict is yes. Unlike their rivals, the Knicks success is sustainable, and they should quickly improve their 14-22 record (they were at one point 3-13. Ouch).



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