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Game Preview: Knicks @ Nets, 3/15/2021

Live from part of New York it’s national TV!

New York Knicks v New Jersey Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Friends, here we have a nationally televised game against a team that also plays locally. The perceived hostilities will be amplified to the dramatic effect of a perilously dismayed mother throwing her newborn out the window of a burning building down to a group of studly firefighters. These heroes, posed obsequiously, are an editorialist’s figurines. Set as such, with a never ending glance toward themselves, a relaxed and articulate flex. Rippled torsos gleaming under vampire-red suspenders, a casualness that will never betray the unlikely narrative. Like they just didn’t have time to wear shirts. In slow-motion a Dalmatian trots behind the scene, exposed only briefly to the camera. Monitoring the situation and jittering from fighter to hero, worthlessly pursuing safety for the helpless. For some, life is just one cleansing exhale after another... and... snap the picture!

As the Manhattanites cross over the East River to face the artisanal basketball dynamos from Brooklyn, prepare to get pickled in whiskey barrels and shipped to a slew, an onslaught, a bevy, a slurry of un-cancelable legacy media crumbs. All of whom will invariably dredge up the fact that the Knicks tried to do what the Nets got to do. This will be cooked down into the foul odor of one billionaire franchisee over here and the somehow non-odious billionaire franchisee over there. Then the front offices and inevitably the deeply flawed fans who are either right or wrong, betrayed either by their virtuousness or inefficacy. We’ll figure it out soon enough.

Don’t lose sight of the straight and demanding fact of the matter. The true story. The Knicks are a top defense. They have been all year. The Nets are a scalding inferno on offense. If the season were to end today, they would be facing one another in the playoffs. The superfluous and indefatigable, omnidirectional dreck-vomit that cretins, morons and bullies like Skip Bayless, Max Kellerman or Frank Isola, will spew unto their soullessness, each shocker a brick house around their next cracked paycheck, is pointless. Both literally and figuratively what they say does nothing for the situation unfolding in the 94’x50’ rectangle. It’s a DNP-CD, clinging to a cup of cold coffee. Is that Howard Beck’s music? Fucking of course not. It’s the East Flatbush Project’s “Tried By 12” blaring over the PA for a group of basketball players that ostensibly keep everyone employed and are subsequently brow-beaten by sycophants for mini-gains in some non-existent pageant for bald and scorned white men. Yes.

All this ballyhoo just to embitter neighbors. But go off, I do suppose.

New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets, Game 4 Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Projected Starters

The Knicks will roll out the same group they had against Oklahoma City on Saturday but there may be alterations to the starting unit. Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose are still out. Mitchell Robinson is still a few weeks away. Though rather encouragingly he was seen at practice with no cast on!

Frank Ntilikina got the start in front of Immanuel Quickley on Saturday but was given the hook early on after picking up two fouls. One of which was just kind of a stupid mistake. Is this the moment we’ve all been waiting for?

Immanuel Quickley v James Harden

Reggie Bullock v Kyrie Irving

RJ Barrett v Joe Harris

Julius Randle v Jeff Green

Nerlens Noel v DeAndre Jordan

I think we may well see that starting group. Now... I don’t want you to think I’m being sarcastic, because I’m not. I also don’t want you to think I’m disparaging Elfrid Payton, because I’m not. I also-also don’t want Reggie Bullock hive coming at me for calling on his demotion but... The starting lineup I want to see is IQ, Frank, RJ, Julius and Mitchell Robinson. I think that is the best defensive five with the most offensive juice that Coach Thibodeau can put together. That is why I would start them. I agree they would need work but reps is the only way to get it. I know the worry of putting that many young players on the floor together is too much to handle for Thibs. The heart most assuredly is a lonely hunter.

Anyway, despite missing some key contributors (or hopefuls in Blake Griffin’s case) I smell some wild cross-matching. I do not like the idea of Quickley on Harden. Nor do I like Bullock on him. I’d give RJ Barrett the reps on unworthy James. Quick on Kyrie works to whatever humbling extent you can bottle him up, and Reggie Bullock on Joe Harris works size-wise at the very least. I don’t mind, they can both run around together.

New Jersey Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Keys & Predictions

In the past Frank Ntilikina has done excellent work containing James Harden, he even tried to dance on him one time. Containing Harden and letting others beat you seems paramount. He still could give you 30 points somewhat easily but containment of such a powerful opponent really means make him do it on 22 shots instead of 15. Getting Ntilikina a good chunk of minutes on Harden is without a doubt one of the most obvious ways Thibs can effect positive change tonight. RJ Barrett’s strength and diligence on defense could also play a huge role but he isn’t quite the same caliber. It’s a vise and a vise grip.

Going down the line to Kyrie Irving, it’s again making him beat you on more shots than he should be taking. His Master Splinter off-court sensibilities morph into a multiplicity on-court where it feels like you’re guarding three of him. Choose wisely.

The big difference as always is the Julius Randle matchup. Can Julius give Jeff Green hell? Can he also avoid getting pulled into too many help situations, suddenly leaving Green open to pull from deep? I am deeply concerned about Julius struggling with the deft footwork of Nic Claxton. Perhaps, if matched up, the bulldozer will finesse his way to the window and clap on ‘em.

Game is on ESPN at 8:00, Knicks by -19

New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets, Game 3 Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Parting Shot

Even if the Knicks pull this one off, it will be sloughed off, “oh the Nets didn’t have Kevin Durant”. That may be; but you play the opponent in front of you. The Knicks are clearly a better team than was expected of them. To be facing a Nets team with two or three offensive megastars and yet it doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion that the Knicks will lose is as telling as anything needs to be. The past that brought us to this moment doesn’t matter. Enjoy the game.

New Jersey Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images