Hurricane Sandy delayed the start of the season for both the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, but on Monday night, the rivalry is finally set to begin. Before the season began, both New York teams had many questions surrounding them. Neither side was believed to be a real threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, and even unseating the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division seemed like a pipe dream. It's very early still, but the Knicks and Nets have both proven that they're to be taken seriously, which makes Monday's rivalry kick-off even that much more exciting.
For the 9-3 Knicks (for both sides for that matter), the game has both tangible and intangible meaning. The Knicks rebounded on Sunday after a tough weekend which included losses on Wednesday and Friday in Dallas and Houston, where the Knicks gave up a combined 245 points, a number that would have made a lot more sense in the Mike D'Antoni regime. The Knicks got back to winning ways on Sunday in a mostly one-sided victory over the Detroit Pistons, but the Nets are sure to provide a stiffer test.
The Nets enter the game at 8-4, and although most of their schedule has been pretty soft, the Nets have posted impressive wins over the Celtics and most recently the Los Angeles Clippers. They have a style and they're sticking to it, and that style under Avery Johnson has been to slow it down. Through 12 games, the Nets are playing at the league's slowest pace, averaging an estimated 88.3 possessions per 48 minutes, a league low. That plays well into the Knicks hands, as Mike Woodson's wide is the league's most offensively efficient team to date (it bears noting that the Nets are fifth in the league as well).
Both teams have stars that they lean heavily on, and for the Knicks it's Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is playing at an MVP-level this season, and recently has put teams away early with killer first quarters and first halves. Against Detroit, the Knicks were able to play their star just 32 minutes, so expect a relatively fresh Anthony on Monday. The Knicks continue to get contributions form up and down their roster, as J.R. Smith continues to fill the stat sheet from game-to-game.
The game is likely to have a playoff atmosphere and the implications will feel bigger than the one out of 82 it truly is. Monday begins a brand new turf war in New York sports, one that will be the most intense intra-city rivalry in all of the major sports. The Giants and Jets play once every four years, and the Giants recent success and Jets' very recent return to poor form has made that "rivalry" - which was always manufcatured - obsolete. If the Giants and Jets' rivalry is a joke, then the Yankees-Mets rivalry is a circus. Once the Islanders move to Brooklyn, their rivalry with the Rangers will be incredibly intense, but that's a few years off.
For the Knicks, it's just one game. For the Nets, it's just one game. But the fact that it's against each other, for the first time. Yeah, it means just a little bit more.
Game time: 7 p.m. ET