Tonight it finally goes down. Hurricane Sandy delayed for several weeks the much-anticipated season-opener that was supposed to be the Knicks taking on the Nets at the Barclays Center. In retrospect, the delay is probably for the better. Both teams have had roughly 10 games to get familiar with personnel changes and get some chemistry down. Each has played well and sit atop the Atlantic Division, but there’s been recent streakiness in their last handful of games (both squads are 2-2 over their last 4 games). Nonetheless, even with the injuries (Deron Williams’ ankle, Stoudemire and Shumpert still out), there should be no excuses from either side come Tuesday morning. Let’s break down a few fun and key matchups for tonight.
Raymond Felton vs. Deron Williams: You could argue this is the most important matchup. Felton has all but quieted critics who said the Knicks made a mistake picking him over Jeremy Lin. While Deron Williams has struggled the last few games, you know he’ll be up for tonight’s contest. Felton will have to make Williams work hard on both ends by attacking the basket and playing tight defense. I don’t expect Williams to go off scoring-wise, but his rhythm needs to be disrupted because his passing, in particularly yesterday late in closing out the Trailblazers, will give the Knicks fits.
Tyson Chandler vs. Brook Lopez: This is not the game for Chandler to not come with it. Tyson has had a few horrid games were he was destroyed by his man like the recent one in Houston (Omar Asik) and a few weeks back against San Antonio (Tiago Splitter). Chandler needs to contain Lopez offensively: no lazy closeouts on Lopez’s jumper and no weak boxing out. Lopez has been beasting offensively in Brooklyn, scoring over 20 in three of their last four games. Tyson needs to be very smart with his fouls because should he go to the bench early, the Knicks will be in trouble down low.
Melo will be Melo, but Protect Him Woody: If anything is a sure-fire thing tonight it’s that Melo will get his on the offensive end. Last time he met the Nets he torched them for 21 points in the first quarter.
The concern is on defense, as BK has physical, big forwards that can not only push Melo around, but get in him foul trouble. Tonight is not the time for Woodson to forget he has guys like Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas to help out with rebounding. If he does, expect Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans to have a field day on the boards.
Defense: This is what this game comes down to. If the Knicks that started the season 6-0 show up tonight, they cruise to a comfortable win. If the streaking defense of the last few games rears its ugly head, the Knicks will be clawing from behind all game and likely lose decisively.
Prediction: It will be a playoff atmosphere with the Knicks fans taking over the arena early. For how long depends on the play. I think the refs swallow their whistles much to the continued chagrin of Melo and company. I don’t see either team taking a commanding lead and this being decided in the fourth quarter, where I feel the Knicks experience and ability to get defensive stops leads them to a tight win and a great beginning to the NY rivalry. The game starts at 7 p.m. live on TNT.