The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, who both fancied themselves title contenders just a month ago, face off on national TV Thursday in what Zach Lowe has dubbed the "Toilet Bowl." The Knicks are 3-13, a game ahead of the Bucks at the bottom of the league standings. Right above them in the East sit the Nets at 5-13. The teams are at the bottom of a calamitous Atlantic Division led by the 8-12 Celtics. The Atlantic is a total dumpster fire and the Knicks and Nets are competitive in the division.
How did we get here? Is there any hope life will spring from this morass? Who has it worse? Let's dig in.
WHY ARE YOU SO BAD?
Knicks: New York's formula for disaster is an unholy mix of injury (J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton have missed time), regression (especially on three-point shooting), dicey coaching and seriously bad shooting. Chandler is the only plus defender plotted as a starter for the team -- Iman Shumpert's defense has been overrated, I'm afraid -- and he's been out since early November. Meanwhile, the offense has struggled as few Knicks can hit shots right now. Smith is shooting frequently, but can't hit anything (his brother, to your great surprise, has not contributed). Shumpert is completely lost as the team tries hard to trade him while the Knicks front office is telling other teams that Knicks coach Mike Woodson is misusing Shump, so he'll be better on a new club. Finally, Carmelo Anthony just isn't producing as well as he did last season through no apparent fault of his own.
Nets: For Brooklyn, this is a case of injuries galore, a complete lack of on-court chemistry among players and real strife on coaches' row. Jason Kidd has been under fire from Day 1; on the bench, he less resembles an NBA head coach than a sculpture. On Tuesday he basically fired top assistant Lawrence Frank -- the highest-paid assistant in the league, and one with a six-year contract -- over differences of philosophies. One month into the season. Kidd and company have taken heat for the apparent lack of a coherent plan the Nets seem to exhibit on the court. The chemistry between Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez and newcomers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett hasn't been bad. It just hasn't existed at all. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the club on any given possession. Of course, it hasn't helped that Williams and Lopez have been battling injuries, Andrei Kirilenko has been basically absent and that Pierce is now out for a while. Garnett, meanwhile, might have finally gotten old. Finally.
YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY BE THIS BAD, RIGHT?
Knicks: Chandler returning and Smith shooting even 40 percent from the field should get New York some wins. I wrote a blueprint for the Knicks' in-season rise last week. Keep in mind that the Knicks are now 0-7 against the West and 3-6 against the East. Only 23 more games against the West remain; they have 43 more games against the largely-abysmal East.
Nets: There's no way the Nets will be a .278 team this season unless Williams or Lopez miss a huge stretch. The team led by those two and J.J. had 49 wins last season and the league's No. 8 offense. Lopez is one of the most -- maybe the most -- effective offensive center in the NBA. The defense looks like a permanent problem, but there's so much firepower and so many games against the East to come that the wins will definitely pile up. At some point. I think.
WHO IS WORSE?
The Knicks have the worse record, but the Nets are getting outscored by 7.5 points per game and have more injury issues at this point. Brooklyn is in worse shape at this point, at least until Williams returns to action.
WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT GIF?
In this GIF, Andrea Bargnani prevents Kawhi Leonard from getting a clean shot off against the invisible magic basket five feet to the right of the actual mundane basket.
Jason Kidd fails to cover up his plot to earn an extra timeout by spilling a drink on the court, gets fined $50,000 and still loses. Both the apex and nadir of the Nets season to date.
ARE YOU GOING TO WIN A TITLE?
No. No no no.
IS THERE A RECOVERY PLAN IF THIS CONTINUES TO GO POORLY?
Knicks: New York needs to convince Carmelo to re-sign in the offseason. That's not going so well. It remains to be seen whether, if the team remains awful for two more months, the Knicks will consider trading Anthony to the highest bidder. The Mavericks, for instance, might put together a neat little package of cap relief and prospects or draft picks. If not, and if 'Melo re-signs, it'll take some front office magic to put a team around him given the awful contracts (Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani) remaining on the books. The Knicks have also traded about half of their upcoming picks.
Nets: Brooklyn projects to have $40 million in cap space in ... uh, 2016. Lopez, Williams and Johnson alone make $62 million in 2015-16. The Nets have also traded or agreed to swap most of their upcoming picks.
WHO WILL WIN THURSDAY NIGHT?
People who love to watch things burn.