BROOKLYN — As the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks accumulated a surprisingly sad 8-26 cumulative record, it became abundantly clear that neither team could defend to save its season. Entering Thursday’s matchup of the busted boroughs, the Knicks ranked 28th defensively and the Nets ranked 30th.
Only one of the two teams took advantage of this fact, and the Knicks ran away with a 113-83 victory at Barclays Center, ending their nine-game losing streak.
On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony said his team was “the laughingstock of the league.” But 24 hours later, they’ve been stripped of that title.
The Nets have the worst 3-point defense in the NBA, allowing their opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc entering Thursday’s game. They’re slow and deliberate on both ends of the floor, but really lack the foot speed to help in the paint and then recover to the 3-point line. So it only takes a dribble drive or a ball reversal for their opponent to get an open look from the outside.
The Knicks knew this, moved the ball and fired away on Thursday, hitting a season-high 16 threes on 27 attempts. Anthony (six assists and only 12 shots) shared the ball, Iman Shumpert (5-for-7 from 3-point range) shot with confidence, and the Knicks looked like the team they were last season, when they set an NBA record for 3-point makes and attempts, ranked third in offensive efficiency, and racked up 54 wins.
Against the league’s third-worst defense, the Nets should have been similarly efficient. With Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire as two of their three rotation bigs, the Knicks have consistently been torched on pick-and-rolls this season, often escorting opposing ball-handlers to the basket.
Yet the Nets went a good 10 minutes of the first quarter without running a pick-and-roll once. They too often tried to run their offense through the post, which allowed Bargnani and Stoudemire to stay stationary. The few times they did make those guys move, they got good shots.
Part of that is coaching. Though Brook Lopez led all scorers with 24 points, the Nets’ offense could have been a lot more effective as a whole if he was catching the ball on the move more than in the post. Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball and his players moving offensively. It’s far too early to say that hiring him was a mistake, but we’ve seen enough to say that he’s not a very good coach right now.
Injuries are obviously an issue. The Nets are still without Deron Williams, by far their biggest threat off the dribble. With Williams sitting out for the 10th time in the last 11 games, point guard duties were again left to Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Livingston is athletic, but not all that quick. Taylor is quick, but shaky and inexperienced.
Still, Brooklyn could have run more pick-and-rolls with both, or with Joe Johnson, and just tried to make the New York defense move. They didn’t and they lost by 30.
Both Kidd and Kevin Garnett cited the injuries when discussing their struggles after the game. Garnett added that the Nets are making changes in the wake of Lawrence Frank‘s sudden departure from the bench.
“Those things play a big part into this,” Garnett said. “I’m a firm believer when we’re whole and we have our team full throttle, then that’s what I believe in. Obviously, I believe in the guys that’s put on the floor and we’re going to give it an effort, but when you’re playing teams, you want to play at your whole. That’s what I believe in. And I’m not going to believe anything else until we are whole.”
Before the game, Kidd said that “we all feel confident we have enough to win.” After the game, he asked not to be judged until his team is healthy.
“I think you get evaluated by being whole,” he said. “It starts there. And then once that occurs, then you’re evaluated. That’s as simple as it gets.”
Yes, the Nets are missing four of their top eight guys. And Williams’ importance became even more clear on Thursday. But the Nets still lost at home … by 30 points … to a team that hadn’t won in three weeks and is missing its most important player. The injury excuse only goes so far. And while Williams will help the Brooklyn offense, the defense isn’t going to start looking like that of the Heat upon his return.
Tyson Chandler’s eventual return isn’t going to solve all New York’s problems either. The Knicks are still a long way from digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, especially because they don’t get to play the Nets again until Jan. 20. But they do have a relatively soft schedule over the next two weeks and certainly found some confidence Thursday.
Will that translate into a run up the standings? Even if it doesn’t, at least they’re not the laughingstock of the league anymore.