Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who is the King of the New York City jungle?

“Baby I’m from New York! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do now you’re in New York!”

As you probably remember, these are the lyrics of one of the biggest hit by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. New York is a jungle of streets, businesses, people, ethnic groups and so on. From this season, the Big Apple, is also a NBA jungle with two teams from two different boroughs competing for glory. The two teams, of course, are the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, respectively from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Brooklyn and Manhattan; Manhattan and Brooklyn. Knicks and Nets; Nets and Knicks.

Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. The prestige of one of the franchise never to change city and on the other hand the glamour and freshness of novelty.

Many experts were expecting a good season from the Nets but few had predicted what the Knicks have achieved so far.

The New York Knicks (20-7) have the second best record in the Eastern Conference behind the NBA reigning champions, the Miami Heat (18-6) and are considered as contenders for the next championship.

Carmelo Anthony (a guy from Brooklyn, of course) is averaging 28.3 points per game (second in the League after Kobe Bryant) but that’s not all. Melo is also among the MVP nominees because of his attitude, his improved defense and his effort on any given night. Coach Mike Woodson is helping him and ironically, or maybe not, Carmelo Anthony is benefiting from Amar’e Stoudemire’s injury. The Knicks’ fans finally recognize in their #7 the player that had been traded from the Nuggets after months of rumors.

But Anthony is not the only good note in a team that, even with a similar record to last year’s one, looks much more stronger. The team, as a whole, is playing better and for the first time in a very long long time the Knicks fight as a team and not as a random group of singular players (the Knicks have also the smallest Turnover Percentage in the League with 10.4 turnovers per 100 possessions).

Leaded by Anthony they know exactly where the goal is, as Melo admitted in a ESPN interview.

“Winning the division, getting out of the first round, getting to the Eastern Conference finals,” Anthony said. “I don’t see anything less than that.” Or, in other words, anything less than that would be “unacceptable”.

Brave words but not out of the blue. The Knicks have one of the best roster in the entire NBA and they are still waiting for Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, a very talented young player, to come back from injuries.

Alongside Anthony, who in the first 20 games outscored his opponent 16 times, there are players like Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler.

Jason Kidd, despite his age, is averaging 8 points and almost 4 assists in 30 minutes in the floor (the fifth most used Knicks player). But his contribute goes, of course, beyond the stats. He is playing often as SG and the rest of the team (see Anthony) benefits from having Kidd there.

Raymond Felton, the prodigal son, took his responsibilities before the start of the season when he openly said that he considers himself better that Jeremy Lin (“I am a point guard just like he is, so do I think I am better? Of course, I am going to say that. I think I am better than any point guard.”). So far Felton has done his job. He’s playing 70% of the Knicks’ total minutes scoring 16 points, dishing out 6 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds per game. And, on top of that, he is also taking decisive shots when needed.

The Knicks have everything needed: muscle and quickness, long distance shooters and clutch players, ambition and focus. Will this be enough? Hard to say. The crucial point seems to be how the Knicks will react to the crisis that surely will arrive in the jungle that the NBA is. Will the players stick together and will they be able to manage the huge pressure?

If things look shiny on Manhattan at the moment it is difficult to interpret the mood in Brooklyn.

Right now the new, fantastic Barclays Arena is the place to be in the NBA. But the situation could be better. Dwight Howard was the goal during the summer break but General Manager Billy King, following Deron Williams’ advice, decided not to wait for the big man and to sign a guard, Joe Johnson.

This move gave the Nets a very strong backcourt  but the Nets are still missing the superstar that, for example, the Knicks have in Carmelo Anthony.

The Nets are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference with 14 W and 12 L. Not a bad start, if you consider that last year the Nets, still based in New Jersey, managed to win 22 games and to lose 44.

The Nets are playing better D and are allowing about 5 points less than the previous season. The problem lays on the other end of the floor. Last year they averaged 93.1 points per game; this year they score 95.3 points per game (21st of 30 in the NBA) which, especially against prolific teams, is not enough. In fact they have only won two games of seven against the top 10 scoring teams. On the contrary, against the 10 teams with the worst attack in the NBA, the Nets have won eight times and lost just once.

The scoring potential is there with Williams, Johnson, Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and Gerald Wallace and it is Coach Johnson’s duty now to find a way to make up to the absence of a 20 and plus points per game scorer in the team. If they do not find a solution it could be difficult to achieve what promised by owner Mikhail Prokhorov: a NBA title within three years.

Both teams have yet to win something and the road is still long and obstructed by trees and lianas but so far it looks like the old orange and blue gorilla is still king of the jungle over the young black and white one.

Tanui Lakhina
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