The Brooklyn Nets are the home team in Round 2 of the league's newest rivalry, which apparently will heretofore be called the "Battle of the Boroughs." Though Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center are just a few miles apart, they are each distinct home-court advantages.
But while the Knicks figure to be mostly healthy, at least in the starting five, the same can't be said for the Nets. They'll be without starting center Brook Lopez, who was huge in the first meeting with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Without Lopez the last five games, the Nets have been atrocious, losing four straight, albeit to quality opponents in the Heat, Thunder, Warriors and Bucks. They've shuffled Kris Humphries from the starting lineup to the bench in favor of Reggie Evans, and Andray Blatche has started at the 5.
This is not a sustainable system. Blatche has been shockingly terrific in his bench role, but as a starter, he has left plenty to be desired as a two-way player. Although the Nets bench had been a plus when healthy, Blatche's move to starter has left them woefully shallow in the frontcourt.
The Knicks have also been left shallow by injuries in the frontcourt, but they were built with far more depth in mind. Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby have missed games with injury, but as long as Tyson Chandler is healthy, they're fine defensively.
Ironically enough, the most important player in the Knicks universe so far this season has not been Chandler or even Carmelo Anthony, but Jason Kidd. The geriatric point guard missed four games in late November and early this month, and although the Knicks went 3-1, it was against weak competition and anyone watching those games saw the same thing: it wasn't the team that started the season white hot with terrific ball movement and lights-out shooting.
That team resurfaced last week against the Miami Heat. The ball was zipping around the perimeter, with gunners like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak again making extra pass after extra pass, and without Anthony, the Knicks blew out the Heat again.
The Knicks' and Nets' trajectories have drastically shifted since their first meeting. The Knicks were tumbling back down after their hot start, and the Nets were in the midst of their best stretch of ball since the move. Now, the Nets have to try to reverse their four-game skid without arguably their most important player. The Knicks will seek revenge with all three of their key guys, at least until Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return.
One thing to consider, however: this is a rivalry game. Though it's a new rivalry, the quotes from each side prove that these games matter to every player and coach. Professional sports don't have very many rivalries, but we can look to the college ranks as an example, and there's one rule that always holds for rivalry games.
Expect the unexpected.
Time: 7 p.m. ET