Preview: Nets seek rivalry win against Knicks to keep momentum going
Brooklyn hopes to keep its strong Barclays Center record against the Knicks going on Thursday
BROOKLYN -- The Nets (11-15) will look to even the season series against their cross-bridge rivals when the Knicks (14-13) visit Barclays Center. Brooklyn dropped its first matchup against New York in a lopsided 107-86 loss at the Garden, but the team usually fares much better at home – where it has won six of its last seven games against their neighbors.
Due to the recent struggles of both teams, the Clash of Boroughs series has cooled over the past few years. Yet, the rivalry might be picking up again as both sides are battling to end their current playoff droughts. The Knicks have the same record as the eighth-seeded Pistons, with a tie-breaker pushing them to ninth place. Brooklyn currently sits in 11th in the Eastern Conference, but it is just 2.5 games back a playoff seed. A positive result on Thursday could go a long way towards building momentum.
Here are the Key Things to Watch For:
Key Matchup: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson vs. Kristaps Porzingis
Kristap Porzingis has elevated his game to an elite level this season, averaging 26 points ppg after putting 18 ppg last year. He can be almost impossible defend due to his unique combination of size, ability to score from anywhere and underrated ball-handling skills. He’s also a decent defender, as he gets over 2 blocks per game. There’s a reason why he’s called the unicorn.
Porzingis was a big reason why the Knicks secured a victory in the series opener, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has had some success in guarding him in the past. Hollis-Jefferson memorably held the Latvian big man to a 7-for-16 night in the Nets’ 120-112 victory last season. The third-year player admits the two players have a friendly rivalry on the court, saying there’s no trash-talking but when it’s on, it’s on.
“We give each other the look,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a smile at Wednesday’s practice.
Hollis-Jefferson then revealed a bit about how he guards Porzingis, despite a fairly-significant height difference (7-foot-1 vs. 6-foot-7).
“In the end of the day, it’s just about being more aggressive,” he explained.
He then added, “Every time we’ve played against each other, we’ve both made each other better…He knows what he’s going to get from me. A guy who’s gritty and going to play defense and vice-versa, I know what I’m going to get from him. It depends. It comes down to who is going to compete harder.”
Can Nets Take Advantage of Knicks’ Road Woes?
The Knicks have made plenty of progress this season, but playing on the road is a major problem for the team. New York is 1-8 in away games this season, with their only win coming against Cavaliers when the home side was in an early-season funk.
Barclays Center is less than six miles away from Madison Square Garden, so travel isn’t an issue. But there’s clearly a mental advantage for the home team as evidenced by the aforementioned success by the hosts. Brooklyn needs to capitalize to get their 12th win of the season – a mark it didn’t reach until March last season, ironically against the Knicks.
Will Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas Play?
Okafor and Stauskas’ arrival from Philadelphia has generated plenty of excitement from both Nets fans and the NBA, but Kenny Atkinson insists he’s going to be cautious in integrating both into the rotation.
“I just think it’s going to take time,” Atkinson said Wednesday after practice. “I can’t give you a timetable.”
The Nets coach had plenty of praise for both players’ work ethic. He’s been impressed with the “business-like” approach from Okafor and appreciated Stauskas’ attentiveness during the game against the Wizards.
“It’s nice to have good dudes,” Atkinson said. “It’s good for our chemistry.”
Okafor appears to be receptive towards the team easing him into its strategy.
“They know my weaknesses and strengths and I’m working with them every day to get better,” he said. “They already told me what they want me to work on and like I said, I’m all in.
“[I’m] just getting used to the pace. That’s the main thing. Especially with me really not having played at all this year.”