The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets both headed into the season with sky-high expectations and extreme optimism. Both were confident that they could not only contend for a division title but make a long playoff run as well. After three games, things have pretty much gone perfectly for the Knicks. And halfway through their second game, everything was hunky-dory for the Nets, too -- and then the last quarter-and-a-half took place in their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, spoiling Brooklyn's pristine opening two nights.
The most important numbers for the Knicks in their three victories are 84, 84 and 88. Those, of course, are the amount of points they've given up. Everything starts with defense with New York, as the Mike D'Antoni offense-first era is but a distant memory. Mike Woodson has everyone buying into his system, including Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is newly motivated this season to play an all-around game and be more than just a scorer. He's taking on a leadership role and has been a shining example to his teammates. Of course, his detractors will say, "Why did it take him so long? Where has that been?" It's only been three games, but his maturity has made him a different player -- rebounding, defending and even diving into the crowd for a loose ball.
Anthony still gets to score, too, but the offense has not been a stagnant quagmire when he gets the ball, as has happened in the past. Raymond Felton, along with Jason Kidd, have been keeping the ball moving, and the Knicks have been so unselfish that Woodson has even implored J.R. Smith to shoot more, which one would think could only occur in some alternate universe. But, yes, it really happened. And the team's plan of loading up the roster with elderly-by-NBA-standards citizens is working in the early going. Kidd has only had to play 25 minutes or so a night, which has kept him fresh, and he's stepped right into the shooting guard role and added another selfless element to the starting five. Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace have contributed when called upon, with the pair making the most of their limited minutes, and their experience and basketball IQ there when needed. All the new pieces are coming together nicely, as Wallace stated:
"As far as chemistry goes, it's just the tip of the iceberg. It's still just the third game, but when we're all jelling together, we'll be scary. [Coach Mike] Woodson is like the wizard, mad scientist, with all these pieces and ingredients in here."
The Nets were right there with the Knicks in terms of production and chemistry after one-and-a-half games. The opener on Saturday was a storybook beginning to a new era. The franchise bridged the past by inviting old Brooklyn Dodgers Ralph Branca and Joe Pignatano along with the son of Gil Hodges. The Toronto Raptors played the role of prop, as Brooklyn won its first-ever game, 107-100. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez played their roles to a T, while new bench guys C.J. Watson and Reggie Evans did what they do best -- pour in threes and rebound, respectively. The Brooklyn Knight was the only questionable aspect of the franchise's impressive debut in their new home.
And the party continued two nights later, as the Nets built a 22-point lead with 9:36 left in the third quarter. The Timberwolves, though, didn't go out as meekly as the Raptors and outscored Brooklyn 58-25 from that moment on. All the new and old players were fitting together nicely, but now the Nets will have to take that loss as a learning experience. No matter the names on the back of the jerseys, they still need to outwork their opponent every game and can't ease up until the final buzzer sounds. And with the expectations they have of themselves, this loss hurts more than if it had happened last season. As Avery Johnson pointed out, "I just think, for our team, losses like this have to really sting more than they ever have in the past, because losses like this can come back to bite you later in the year. We can't afford to lose at home."
With all the new players trying to fit together, the signs have been nothing but positive for the Knicks so far, as they've gotten off to their first 3-0 start since the 1999-2000 season. Of course they still have the apostrophe'd elephant in the room, regarding what to do with Amar'e Stoudemire when he comes back, but that's a problem for another day. And the Nets can take what they've done so far and build off it and learn from it as they try to coexist alongside each other. At least they won the important game -- the first one in Brooklyn. It's still way, way early for both, but not a bad way to begin the year.