Talks of rivalry don’t really mean anything when the Nets keeps sliding while the Knicks, getting Carmelo Anthony back from a two game absence, had no problem beating their across-the-bridge rivals for a second time in a row while establishing a six game lead in the Atlantic Division, mostly thanks to Anthony who can’t be stopped when facing the Brooklyn rivals.
While Anthony was out, the Knicks lost their perfect record at home, finding it hard to cope without him and the return of Jeremy Lin. Upon his return, even Brook Lopez in the lineup couldn’t stop the Nets’ slide, as the Knicks played the kind of basketball that gives them the best record in the East. Solid interior defense, patient passing, good spacing and quality looks from beyond the arc, hitting just under 40% of their three point shots once again.
Anthony led the way with 31 points. He is now averaging 37 points against the Nets this season, not scoring below 31. All this talk about Anthony having a special season can be seen in about everything he does on the floor, including his long range shooting. He is shooting a career-best 46.4% from at least 15 feet this season and has been over 50 percent from that distance against the Nets, including 60% from beyond the arc. He does have to defend a bit outside and towards the perimeter when facing the Nets, but it only hurts his rebounding numbers, nothing actually significant.
The Knicks’ outside shooting would have looked much better if it wasn’t for Jason Kidd thinking about the shot a bit too much, but when you’re up by double digits, a little carelessness is acceptable. Kidd shot 2-9 from beyond the arc, maybe thinking he needs to compensate for the absent Steve Novak, off the roster with the flu. Without Kidd’s recklessness from beyond the arc, the Knicks were 9-20 when going for the three. The game plan doesn’t change, because the main facilitators of it, at least offensively – Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony were on the floor.
And while there’s a system and order to things with those three, it’s exactly the opposite when J.R. Smith takes his turn. Smith, who makes only 40.5% of his field goal attempts, had a surprisingly solid and consistent game. He finished with 19 points, making 7-11 from the field, attempting only one three pointer. More importantly, the Knicks outscored the Nets by 24 points with him on the court. The Knicks are usually more efficient without Smith on the floor this season, averaging 115.7 points per 100 possessions compared to 107.6 when he’s on the floor. The pace they were on in the win over the Nets? 125.5 per possession.
That’s another thing about the Knicks that we’re offered this season – a little bit of variety. I wouldn’t call their basketball under Mike Woodson old-school, but it’s more calculated, relying on solid defense and good decision by reliable play makers. The second unit, with Prigioni and Smith (who plays like a starter in terms of minutes), is a lot less predictable, but often even more dangerous.
After 25 games, it’s hard to say this beginning by the Knicks is a fluke. We’re almost a third of the way into the season, and at the moment, they look like the team to beat in the East. A superstar playing the best and most balanced basketball of his career while the guys behind him seems perfect to complement his style and everything the team needs. A recipe for success, something the Knicks haven’t had in a very long time.