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Live Free or Middle Kingdom Previews: Bulls, Nuggets, Nets

Can the Knicks contain Nasty Nate and the Bulls? Can Melo and J.R. stick it to their old coach? Are Pablo and Ray really "just friends"? Let's find out!

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So the Knicks have decided to stop losing - and I, for one, welcome our new basketball overlords.

It's hard to imagine a more impressive win than the Miami game. Forget all the talk of the Heat taking the sans-Melo Knicks lightly: the simple fact of the matter is that the two teams were tied at the half, the Knicks made a run, the Heat made a counter-run, and the Knicks responded by shutting them down completely and turning the game into a laugher. That, my friends, is sheer dominance.

But the Knicks don't have time to rest on their laurels - they're just starting what promises to be a tough stretch of games. To the breakdown!

Sat., Dec. 8: @ Chicago Bulls

Chinese Name: 公牛 (gong-niu) Lit. "male cow"

This is the second team the Knicks have played so far with the character for "cow" in their Chinese name - the other being the Dallas Mavericks. The Knicks are currently a .500 team against cow teams (1-1). Let's pick up the pace, guys - I'm pretty sure "record against cow teams" is the 47th tie-breaker for playoff seeding, just above "record against cities ending in the letter 'o'."

The Chicago Bulls, those Lords of the regular season, have predictably fallen back to the pack so far this year. Fortunately for them, they play in the Central, where a 9-8 record is good enough for first place.

They are still coached by the great Tom Thibodeau. who has officially replaced Steve Nash as the NBA's official "Pitiable Martyr To A Cheapskate Owner" (PiMTACO? Can I use that?) Back in Nash's Phoenix days, Suns ownership would routinely toss away important players come contract time, replacing them with cheaper, crappier players and selling fans on idea that Nash could make them better. Last summer, it was the Bulls tossing aside five players from the deepest roster in the NBA - Kyle Korver, John Lucas, Omer Asik, CJ Watson and some dude named Brewer - and selling their fan-base on the idea that Thibodeau whip their replacements into a defense worthy of the Thibs.

And, wouldn't you know, he has done it so far. The Bulls are third in the league in defensive efficiency. So they're the same ol' Bulls, right - all about defense. What's the problem?

The Bulls of the past two seasons were never the Celtics, in terms of being a completely one-dimensional team that relied totally on defense to win. The 2010-11 Bulls were 11th in offensive efficiency and last year's team finished a surprising 5th. This was a complete team - emphasis on the was. This year they've slipped to 21st in offensive efficiency.

And who is leading the Bulls is usage, as well as points and field attempts per 36 minutes? None other than our own Nate Robinson. Nate's shooting more than everyone else - hard to believe, right? If Nate can stay in the league - and he's been playing well so far this season - then by the Sacred Law of Former Knicks he is guaranteed to torch the team at least once before he's done. In his career, Nate has actually averaged fewer points in his five games against the Knicks than against any other NBA team - 6.0 PPG. The revenge game is coming. I'm scared.

Sun. Dec. 9: Denver Nuggets

Chinese Name: 掘金 (jue-jin) Lit. "dig gold"

This name would be pretty awesome if the Chinese used it with the same double-meaning we have in English. Sadly, though, the Chinese call that kind of girl 拜金女 (bai-jin-nu) Lit. "worship gold woman." It's nice to know that, no matter where you go in the world, there is a word to describe a girl who ain't hangin' with no broke...gentlemen.

Speaking of revenge games, the Nuggets last visited the Garden 11 months ago - the infamous double-overtime, Gallo 37-point Vendetta game that may have been the nadir in a season full of nadirs. For you history buffs out there, here's the recap of that game. I think we can all still agree that Carmelo Anthony totally sucks ass - I mean, the Knicks didn't even play him last time out, and they still beat the Heat by 20.

It would seem so far this year that the Melo trade hasn't been quite as lop-sided as it once seemed. Let's check out Melo's statistics in comparison with the four players the Knicks sent to the Nuggets to get him:

1 Carmelo Anthony 17 35.6 9.1 19.9 .457 2.4 5.4 .435 5.8 7.1 .810 2.0 4.7 6.7 2.1 26.4
2 Wilson Chandler 4 17.3 2.5 8.0 .313 0.5 2.0 .250 1.0 2.0 .500 1.5 3.5 5.0 0.0 6.5
3 Raymond Felton 18 33.5 6.4 14.9 .431 2.0 4.8 .419 1.0 1.4 .692 0.6 2.0 2.6 6.9 15.9
4 Danilo Gallinari 18 33.6 5.1 13.4 .382 1.5 5.3 .284 3.8 4.7 .812 1.0 5.1 6.1 2.5 15.6
5 Timofey Mozgov 8 13.6 1.5 2.5 .600 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.5 1.000 2.3 2.3 4.5 0.4 3.5
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2012.

Wow, it's a good thing the Nuggets convinced the Knicks to throw in Ray Felton; without Felton's contributions the Nuggets would be really hurting from this deal. Hold on, I'm receiving a breaking news update...

...wait, what's that?...Felton signed with what team this summer?...

The Nuggets have played below expectations so far this year - with the notable exceptions of JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried - but they play at a fast pace and they lead the league in ORB% - two things known to give the Knicks trouble.

Oh, who am I kidding? There's absolutely no way to predict this game. I don't know if I've ever seen two teams who play each other so rarely yet have so much entwined history as the Knicks and Nuggets. Let's break it down:

  • Knicks who used to play for the Nuggets: 4 (J.R. Smith, Melo, Marcus Camby, Ray Felton)
  • Nuggets who used to play for the Knicks: 5 (Gallo, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer, Anthony Randolph)
  • Players from both teams who involved in the Melo Megadeal: 7 (everyone but Camby and J.R.)
  • Players left over from 2006's Nuggets - Knicks brawl: 3 (Camby, Melo and J.R. - all of whom play for the Knicks now and played for the Nuggets then!)

Nothing that may come out of this game would surprise me. Either team could win by 30, or the game could go into quintuple-overtime. George Karl might sucker punch J.R. Smith from the bench. Rasheed Wallace might decide that ball does, in fact, lie. I'm very, very excited about this game.

Tues., Dec. 11: @Brooklyn Nets

Chinese Name: 网队 (wang-dui) Lit. "net team"

I'm significantly less excited about this game, having watched these two teams lay a big steaming dookie on the court not too long ago. If you subscribe to the old boxing adage that styles make fights, then these two methodical teams might not make for the most visually appealing brand of basketball. Considering the poor performance of so many key players on both teams, I guess we should hold out hope that this match-up can be something of a do-over. One thing's for sure: if the Knicks are gonna get beat again, I'd rather they get beat by Deron Williams than by Jerry Stackhouse.

On a related note, I recently made the acquaintance of a "bro" from Southern California (I put the word in quotation marks because the two of us aren't literally brothers.) We didn't have much in common, but it was nice to talk to a fellow American. The conversation turned to basketball, and I told him that the Knicks are my favorite team.

"But I thought you're from New Jersey," he said. "Why don't you like the Nets?"

That question. Hopefully, as the memory of the New Jersey Nets fades forever, I'll no longer have to answer it. My mind raced to find the right words:

How can I even begin to answer such a complicated question? Because the geographical labels of New York-area teams can be so arbitrary - I root for a team called the New York Giants that plays in New Jersey. Because the physical distance meant nothing to a kid who watched 99.99% of his games on TV - both teams were on TV. Because MSG was on year-round in my house when I was a kid. Because I have no idea which channel used to broadcast Nets' games back in the day. Because the concept of New Jersey pride didn't mean a lot to a nine-year-old kid looking to watch a basketball game in the early 90's. Because the Knicks were far-and-away the best basketball team I could watch at the time. Because they had Patrick Ewing. Because they played in the Garden. Because nobody ever asked me "Why don't you root for the Nets?" until after I had moved out of Jersey.

All of this was on my mind, but in the end I felt it better to reply: "Because fuck the Nets."