The Knicks get on national TV at the worst time. Maybe the sight of Kevin Durant at the Garden will wake Tom Thibodeau’s club from their obscene shooting woes Wednesday.
After an unexpected 5-3 start, the injury-ravaged Knicks are reeling after losing three straight games by double-digits to fall below .500 – unable to break 90 points in any of the defeats.
Though the Nets are going through Kyrie Irving’s mysterious disappearance, they still have an abundance of talent and average 118.5 points per game.
When the NBA released the first half of the schedule, this marked the Knicks’ lone ESPN game against their intracity rivals. It’s KD’s first game against the Knicks since he spurned them in the summer of 2019. Books were written that Durant was destined to become James Dolan’s savior.
“[The Nets are] obviously a very talented team,” Thibodeau said. “I’ve seen them a couple of times earlier in the season. They’ve got a lot of weapons, and any team that has Durant, it’s a loaded team. So we’re gonna have to bring our best and be ready for the game.”
The Knicks haven’t played their best in a week as RJ Barrett’s shooting slump reaches terrifying proportions. A downward trend from point guards Elfrid Payton and Immanuel Quickley has also doomed them.
Thibodeau and his eight assistants have their work cut out for them. Austin Rivers, who made his first start at shooting guard in Charlotte Monday for injured Reggie Bullock, hopes panic does not set in.
“We’re 5-6, we’ve had one of the hardest schedules in the NBA,” Rivers said. “We’ve played most of the best teams in the NBA. Everybody needs to just take a deep breath We’ve got half our team out with injury… you’ve got to ask yourself as a Knick fan or if you’re covering us (in the media), would you take a 5-6 start considering we’ve got one of the toughest schedules in the league?”
With a Barrett-Payton backcourt, teams are daring the Knicks to shoot from deep by wielding a 2-3 zone. Nets rookie head coach Steve Nash may have further intel on Barrett’s tendencies – as his godfather.
The Knicks are not only missing open shots; they are passing some up, a concern to the coaches. The Knicks rank dead last in 3-point attempts and are second-to-last in points per game at 100.1.
“We’re going to see that,” Thobdeau said of zones. “There are times we attacked it really well. When you’re making shots, it helps. We have to get into the gaps, make the right reads and not hesitate when we’re open. And often times we’re passing up wide open shots. And in this league when you do that, you end up with a shot that’s not as good. And so if we’re open, we’re going to shoot.”
The Nets have struggled after a 2-0 start and carry the same 5-6 record entering Tuesday’s encounter vs. the Nuggets. Saddled by Kyrie-Gate, the Nets enter the Garden on the second leg of a back-to-back – but still as title contenders.
“I have not watched one game of theirs,” Rivers said. “I’m not trying to be funny. I’ll watch 10 games on TV but I haven’t watched them play. I know they’re really good because they have very talented players. They’ve got a good team. I know they can score the ball. I know they haven’t played their best basketball either so they’re looking to get back in rhythm.”
Knicks-Nets has not soared to the vitriol of Rangers-Islanders, as both teams have not been good at the same time. Irving and KD turning their noses on the Knicks has heightened the competition.
“Is it a rivalry?” Rivers said. “Who knows? That question I guess will be answered over the remainder of the season. Neither team has won a championship in quite some time. And I think we’re both obviously, we’re trying to build something here and they think they have a chance this year.”
Barrett and Nash have a longstanding relationship, and Nash has served as a teacher. The Nets coach and Barrett’s father Rowan were Team Canada teammates.
“It’s gonna be fun to go up against Uncle Steve,” Barrett said. “I grew up watching him, and now for him to be a coach it’s gonna be a lot of fun. They’re very talented, they’re a good team, they’re trying to get back into their winning ways, as well. It’s gonna be a good battle. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times, always wishing him luck, letting him know he’s doing a good job.”
KD has not spoken well about the Knicks, saying last season the franchise is no longer “cool.” Certainly, the frigid Knicks hope to heat up against KD’s Nets Wednesday
“Right now we’re not playing well defensively,” Thibodeau said. “And part of that is when you’re not making shots, you’re playing low energy. And if you lack confidence, where do you get confidence from? You get confidence from your preparation.”
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