posted 2012-12-18 18:32:33

A New York Rivalry is Born

Knicks and Nets come out firing 

Andy Bell-Baltaci

Staff Writer

Recall a year ago, when the Nets were a far different team. The Nets finished out the 2011-12 season, their last season across the Hudson as the New Jersey Nets, with a dismal 22-44 record, a laughingstock of the NBA. Things got so bad for the Knicks that they finished the season losing their last six games, the final nail in the coffin a 98-67 pounding against the Raptors in Toronto.

This year, the Nets are a new franchise. The Nets now play with the name “Brooklyn” on the front of their jerseys, and are perhaps the turnaround team of the NBA. Instead of sharing the Prudential Center in Newark with the New Jersey Devils, the Nets have baptized the state-of-the-art Barclay’s Center in Downtown Brooklyn, selling out games that last year were at half-capacity.

This year, the Nets have shown a side of themselves that we haven’t seen since the glory days of the early 2000s, including a trip to the NBA Finals in the 2002-03 season, when they pushed the mighty San Antonio Spurs to six games.

The Nets have started the 2012-13 season with a 10-4 record, tied atop the Atlantic Division with their cross-town rival, the New York Knicks. The Nets have been especially impressive on defense, leading the NBA by allowing 90.7 Points Per Game (PPG). Meanwhile, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez have met and exceeded standards. Williams, Johnson, and Lopez have combined to score 50 PPG for the Nets, accounting for over half of the teams 95.6 PPG. On the defensive end, Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans have combined for 16.9 rebounds per game (RPG). Evans was an offseason Nets acquisition from the Los Angeles Clippers, and has proven to be one of the most productive bench players in the league.

Meanwhile, the Knicks were the last undefeated team standing in the NBA, and started the 2012-13 season 6-0 before a tough road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. New York, after winning in Milwaukee, was 10-4, winning nine of those ten games by double digits, and all of this despite missing Amar’e Stoudemire due to injury.

The Knicks have shown us thus far that they are a different team from last year, with a revamped roster and an improved style of play. In the offseason, the Knicks lost Jeremy Lin to the Rockets and Jared Jeffries to the Trailblazers, but in turn acquired veteran players like Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Raymond Felton, who is second on the team in PPG. The man who leads the team in that category, Carmelo Anthony (26.5 PPG), is performing like the player the Knicks traded for back when he was playing in Denver. Part of this may be due to Mike Woodson’s coaching style, which is more suited to Anthony than was former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni’s style.

The Knicks have also improved in areas they were lacking in last season. In the 2011-12 season, the Knicks averaged 16 turnovers per game (TPG), and this season the Knicks have cut that figure down to 11.6 TPG. From behind the arc, the Knicks now average 11.6 3-pointers per game, whereas that figure was a lackluster 7.8 last season. These improvements have resulted in a Knicks team that resembles the 1993-94 team that started 7-0 and went to the NBA Finals, eventually losing to the Houston Rockets.

And so the Knicks and the Nets have built an exciting new rivalry for a city that now has not just two football teams and two baseball teams, but also two basketball teams. The rivalry’s first regular season matchup was a classic at the Barclay’s Center, with the BNets winning a 96-89 thriller in overtime.

The way it has started, the Knicks and Nets could be building the foundations of an intense rivalry, between two teams that play 15 minutes from each other. Aside from a few miles, there is virtually no other distance between the two teams, who share the peak of the Eastern Conference with Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Who knows? If everything plays out we may see a new “Subway Series” come May, not involving the Mets and Yankees, but instead the Knicks and Nets in a battle for bragging rights and hardwood glory.