Beginning with the start of the new year, both the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks displayed an uptick in their efficiency levels, winning games at a much higher rate than they had previously. As the month of January winds down, however, the Nets and the Knicks find themselves on rapidly diverging paths that give indications that one team's hot start to the month was more representative of how they will play for the rest of the season. With the Nets sending the Knicks to an embarrassing 103-80 defeat in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee, it is looking more and more obvious that of the two teams, the Nets are a much more legitimate NBA team.
The blowout defeat suffered by the Knicks was not just their fourth loss in as many games, but it also represented a return of many of the issues that had plagued the team throughout the beginning portions of the season. A loss in and of itself is no reason to write off a team as an actual loser since teams can still play well in defeats unless that team loses as the Knicks did on Monday (i.e., refuses to play even a semblance of defense).
To say that the Knicks struggled with their defensive rotations and understandings of how to properly defend even the simplest of offensive plays run by the Nets would be a severe understatement. Based on the way in which they played in the contest, it is worth wondering whether the Knicks even wanted to play defense against the Nets. Perhaps most of the Knicks players could not even be bothered to play defense and considered doing so beneath them.
Once a person contemplates that notion and begins to accept it is fact then it is easy to understand how the Nets could have so much offensive success. Knowing that the Knicks simply did not care to play defense makes the 116.6 points per 100 possessions the Nets scored and the 61.5 true shooting percentage they posted no longer seem spectacular, but inevitable given they were only facing the most ceremonial levels of resistance from the Knicks defense.
And when you learn that Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson was able to score 25 points off 15 field goal attempts and six free throw attempts, you will nod your head all the while wondering why I am so in love with stating the obvious; of course Johnson was able to score so efficiently, he was being guarded figuratively, but not literally.
When I follow up my comments about Johnson by also pointing out that Nets center Andray Blatche poured in 19 points after taking just 12 shots from the field, you will find an excuse to bring the conversation to a close because if I am only going to go around stating the obvious, then there is no reason for you to continue giving me your attention and I might as well walk around telling people that water is wet and that Earth revolves around the sun. Yes, players who do not have to go against any defense will be able to score at a highly efficient rate; nothing new to see here.
Despite the porous defense the Knicks played, that is not the only reason they lost the contest; they have managed to win offensive shootouts before. Unfortunately, their offensive efficiency was as absent from the game as their defensive intensity, and their offense was locked up tight by the swarming Nets defense.
While the Knicks did do an impressive job of snatching down offensive rebounds (27.5 offensive rebounding percentage) and converting from the free throw line (.338 FT/FGA), it was not nearly enough to overcome the sheer volume of missed shots they clanged off the basket on Monday. Even though excelling the two aforementioned areas usually means a team had success on offense, it only means that when a team combines to post better than a 39.4 effective field goal percentage.
Nothing went right for the Knicks on Monday and very little has gone right for them in the past four games; now that the euphoria from their hot start to 2014 has worn off, a cold, hard look at their January record reveals that they are only 6-5 this month. They are a better team than they showed over the first two months of the season, but they do not seem to be destined to challenge for anything more than the eighth playoff seed.
On the other hand, there has been no cooling off for the Nets as January progresses to its end. Rather, there has been evidence of staying power as the Nets continue to impress on the court and currently possess a 7-1 mark this month. Perhaps, like the Knicks, the Nets will soon come crashing back to earth, but for right now, they are still riding high and they are still the superior team in New York.