“Welcome to tomorrow…”-Powers Boothe, “By Dawn’s Early Light” (1990)
At times during the 2009-2010 season, the New Jersey Nets endured an ungodly run of debilitating injuries-often playing minus four starters and suiting up only eight players instead of the normal 12. And at this point in the truncated 2011-2012 National Basketball Association campaign, the same injury-plagued scenario is repeating itself.
On this side of the river, the New York Knicks-touted by their coach and various others as a legitimate threat to win the NBA title-have been up and down, to say the least. Their stars have been less than stellar and have difficulty playing together, their role players have been awful and, until recently, their backcourt has been horrendous.
From a positive standpoint, owing to the ludicrous 159-day lockout of players by NBA owners, it won’t be long before the 66-game season, which began Christmas Day, will be a bad memory. And remember, this writer absolutely loves pro hoops.
The battle for basketball supremacy in New York officially starts when the Nets relocate to Brooklyn in October. Meanwhile, on Feb. 4, unheralded point guard Jeremy Lin led the Knicks in a 99-92 win over the shorthanded Nets at Madison Square Garden.
Not to diminish Lin’s recent, surprising heroics, but it must be noted that the Nets had almost as many players injured for that game as were dressed. The teams meet two more times this season-again at the Garden and once at the Prudential Center in Newark.
When the campaign got underway, not much was expected of the Nets, while many so-called “experts” picked the Knicks to be contenders. Except for a 97-90 overtime win over Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia, the Nets have been pathetic and the Knicks have gone from dismal to hopeful. Here’s a look at each as the halfway mark looms.
First the Nets. Bankrolled by Russia’s flamboyant Mikhail Prokhorov-the richest owner in pro sports-and eight months from their first game in Brooklyn’s spanking-new Barclays Center, the future is bright. However, the current campaign has been a disaster.
To date, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the disappointing 2011-12 Nets is that they have four different Williamses on the team: Deron, Jordan, Shawne and Shelden. And at times, all four have been on the floor at the same time. Hmmm…
At this writing, a broken foot in preseason has kept Nets’ 7-foot center Brook Lopez out of the first 29 games. He is expected back later this month. A broken foot also sidelined starting forward Damion James-just as last year-while a broken toe and strained Achilles tendon knocked outstanding rookie MarShon Brooks out for six games.
There’s more: New swingman Keith Bogans broke his ankle, tore his shoulder and is finished; center Mehmet Okur-obtained to replace Lopez-sat out many games with back spasms; swingman DeShawn Stevenson was sidelined with a bad knee; and All-Star guard Deron Williams and forward Kris Humphries missed time with bumps and bruises.
On the bright side, if the Nets are able to pry away 7-foot center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic by the mid-March trade deadline-which seems likely-they would be better, but it’s still a long shot for them to make the playoffs. Howard is the NBA’s best center and says he wants to team up with playmaker supreme Deron Williams.
If there is no Howard trade, the Nets still could sign him as a free agent in the summer and enter Brooklyn with a dominant, youthful starting front line of Howard, Lopez and 6-foot-9 Humphries. The latter is a rough, tough rebounding machine. In addition, one of owner Prokhorov’s Russian buddies-6-foot-9 free agent veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko-is also rumored to be headed to Brooklyn.
Now the Knicks. Their heavily hyped duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire has fallen short of the lofty expectations, considering their record that, in late January and early February, reached 11 defeats in 13 games. And while tough Tyson Chandler-a defense-first 7-foot-1 center obtained from the champion Dallas Mavericks-has helped the three-pronged “Broadway Bigs” have bombed out.
As usual, a big problem was Anthony’s early season ball hogging. Although one of the league’s top scorers, his teammates have taken to standing around as he seeks to get a shot up. Interestingly, when nagging injuries have kept Anthony off the floor of late, the team has been much more successful. Hmmm…
Meanwhile, Stoudemire has made it clear that he is unhappy about becoming the second scoring option after last season, when he clearly was the team’s leader and was talked about as a candidate for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he can return to form-and Anthony passes the ball as often as he shoots-the Knicks might live up to expectations.
At this juncture, coach Mike D’Antoni remains on the hot seat-with many fans calling for him to be fired-but under the heading of strange things are happening, the unexpected emergence of Lin-a young, 6-foot-3 Chinese-American scoring playmaker-could save D’Antoni’s job. Lin has led the team to impressive wins in his first five games.
Bottom line: The Nets’ best hope is the arrival of Howard, who is nicknamed “Superman” for the cape he wore while winning the slam dunk contest at a recent All-Star Game. On the other hand, the much healthier Knicks-augmented by Lin’s moxie and unselfish play-could very well make the playoffs and live up to their hype.
The Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry will be the best thing to ever happen for both teams and for city pro hoops fans.