One night after the Nets officially clinched a playoff spot, the Knicks curled up into the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot with a 29-point shellacking of the Brooklyn Nets. Ain't no love in the heart of the city for the NBA's hottest franchise.
Wednesday night, the Nets looked more shell shocked than Mike Myers during Yeezy’s Hurricane Katrina telethon reproach of George W by the Knicks coming out energized on their home floor.
Three months ago, the Nets were floating face down in the Hudson and four weeks ago the Knicks were flapping in a net and being placed in a tank to be to be skewered in the offseason before getting placed on James Dolan's menu.. The Knicks are 12-3 in their last 15 games, but have also been bolstered by Atlanta sinking like a rock into the top 10 picks of the NBA lottery. Unfortunately, the entrance music they hear blaring over the speakers belongs to the Miami Heat as they rush towards the ring salivating over the opportunity to sweep the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. If the Heat falter, the Knicks could get an even more inauspicious matchup against the Indiana Pacers.
If that won’t be an impetus for Carmelo Anthony to latch onto a contender next summer, nothing will.
The only reasonable explanation for the Knicks180 degree turnaround is the Zen factor. On March 5, the Knicks leveled the Minnesota Timberwolves to halt a seven-game losing streak that was overshadowed by Raymond Felton's arrest on felony gun possession charges that later became misdemeanors. On March 7, the Phil Jackson to the Knicks rumors hit the rumor mill. Occam's razor credits the Knicks tokin' off Jackson's aura and positive vibes as the chief reason for the Knicks resurgence, but their relatively soft schedule has also played a role.
Based on the utter disregard shown by the Knicks for the Nets on Wednesday night, it's starting to look like Manhattan and Brooklyn will be hosting playoff games later this month. The lackadaisical attitude permeating from the freefalling Atlanta Hawks' injury-ravaged front office and from its roster about reaching the playoffs bodes well for the Knicks as well even if their upcoming schedule doesn't. In their final six games, the 33-43 Knicks will face a death row that includes the Wizards, Heat, Atlantic-leading Raptors, the Bulls, vengeful Nets at Barclays and the Raptors. Fortune actually favors the 32-42 Hawks who close out with the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons, Celtics, Brooklyn, Heat, Bobcats and Bucks.
Meanwhile, Tyson Chandler calling the Knicks a dangerous postseason grenade and Anthony making comments like, "We know what we want," after the Nets win project the image of a team determined to muck things up rather than one interested in packing for an early offseason. However, common sense dictates that there is a ceiling for the Knicks. It's impossible for the Knicks to catch the Charlotte Bobcats with six games to go.
Madison Square Garden will be a first round playoff stage, but like Kanye rushing the '09 VMAs, “ I'm really happy for Knicks fans and Imma let y'all finish, but Brooklyn has the best playoff team in New York City this year.”
When you’re watching the Kentucky Wildcats gallivant around like some sort of plucky, underdog version of a Tournament Cinderella on Sunday, think of the Brooklyn Nets, but with John Calipari being coached by a team of McDonalds All-American freshmen. If student-athletes could get paid, the Nets and Wildcats would probably have matching payrolls with star athletes on opposite ends of their careers, but in the same position of trying to salvage seasons that once appeared unsalvageable.
Jason Kidd’s appointment to the Nets head coaching vacancy just weeks after his retirement was one of the riskiest decisions of general manager Billy King’s career. Especially, because the Nets were entering year four of Mikhael Prokhorov’s championship pledge and Kidd was only weeks into his retirement.
After 31 games, Kidd looked like a one-and-done coach. The Nets were 10-21, players were mentally and physically checking out early. In addition to their Joe Johnson and Deron Williams looked like two of the three worst contracts in the NBA behind Amar’e Stoudemire’s deal.
Calipari’s been in Kidd’s shoes before as the Nets beleaguered head coach. Twenty games into his third season, the Nets cut him loose and Calipari went back to cutting down nets instead. He hasn’t looked back since.
Early on in Kidd’s coaching tenure, he had a deer in headlights glaze in his eyes as the calls from impatient fans and sportswriters to give him the boot swirled around him.
Kidd’s hasn’t handled the responsibility of driver’s seats too deftly in the past and the rookie head coach was suspended for the first two games of his burgeoning second career because of a DWI plea, stemming from a collision with a parked light pole during the summer of 2012.
During an appearance on Truehoop TV, NBA scout David Thorpe called Kidd, the NBA’s worst coach.
He gets an F. He gets a 0. My wife could coach a team to a 29th ranking for that team. She doesn't know much about basketball. He just… his guys, I don't think they have any purpose and passion to what they're doing. I think they're discombobulated. Listen, Henry, he was an amazing player, one of my favorite of all time for a lot of different reasons, but our profession is different from his profession, and to assume that that transition is easy, it's a short bridge, is crazy. He has a long way to go to figure this out. Do I think he'll be better? Will they be better? It seems very likely. But as he's currently doing, he's the worst coach in the NBA.
However, Kidd’s midseason course correction has been nothing short of remarkable. Especially because Deron Williams is having the least effective season of his NBA career.
The Brooklyn Nets are also living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Since Dec. 31’s declawing the Nets have reinvented themselves into a squad that’s won with four guards that have positioned themselves around the perimeter and have made more three pointers per game in 2014 than any team in the league.
Losing their seven-foot center Brook Lopez on Dec. 21 to another season-ending foot injury forced their hand.
On December 31, the Nets sank to the bottom of the East’s cesspool and scored a season-low 36 points in the first half of a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Since the ball dropped on 2014, the Nets are 30-13 and have posted the Eastern Conference’s best record. They started off the New Year with a win over the Thunder, faded the Spurs, are 3-0 against the Heat and have humbled the surging Bulls. During Brooklyn's post-All-Star break upswing, the Nets stretched their scoring average from a pedestrian 97.2 average to 102.2 points per game.
A drastic lineup adjustment has also assisted the Nets surge. After a decade and a half of playing on the wing, Paul Pierce is putting opposing power forwards in the spin cycle as part of Brooklyn’s four guard starting lineup.
Mason Plumlee has anchored the low post and excelled catching lobs off of pick and rolls while Lopez’s substitute Kevin Garnett’s been sidelined for the past 17 games.
After Lopez's injury, Garnett's insertion into the starting center position was a boon for the defense. With Garnett on the floor, the Nets allowed just 94.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank first in the NBA over the span of a season. Without Garnett during the month of March, the offense flourished, but the defense backpedaled into allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions.
On Monday, the league’s best walking stat line, Kevin Love, was cryogenically frozen by Pierce on the offensive end. When trying to find an excuse for his subpar 14 point, nine rebound performance, Love opted to feign a sick.
“They did a good job, but it was really just me being exhausted,” Love claimed. “I couldn’t find any energy in the second half.”
When reporters gave him the side eye and asked why his energy was so low on this night, Love added an additional caveat.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I might be getting sick or something.”
When made aware of Love’s comments, Pierce leaned in for the burn.
“Pierce-itis,” Pierce said while exiting the locker room. “It’s getting around.”
The Nets size limitations will probably prevent them from contending from an NBA title, but they do have the ingredients to catch fire and act as a Molotov cocktail in the postseason to take out Miami or Indiana in the second round. Conversely, the Knicks are holding a soft 17 asking the dealer to hit. Kidd's Nets resurrection has ramifications beyond this season. If Derek Fisher gets handed the reins to the Knicks as Jackson's Triangle prophet he'll have Kidd to thank. More importantly, the chef in their Brooklyn kitchen is cooking up a playoff batch for the Eastern Conference’s best seeds.