After some much needed time off as part of their trip to London — a trip that still doesn’t totally make sense to me, but it looked like they had a reasonable time — the Knicks will resume their blossoming rivalry Monday night against the Nets.
In the wake of Mike D’Antoni’s departure a season ago, there was some talk regarding the idea of trading Carmelo Anthony for Brooklyn’s Deron Williams, a move that in hindsight would have proven a graduate of the school of terrible ideas. Anthony is not only having an MVP-caliber season, but he gives the Knicks a proven crunch-time scorer for the postseason, along with a well-defined identity as a team. The New York Times’ Beckley Mason described the distinction well, and why it gives New York the postseason edge:
The Knicks know who they are and where to go at the end of games. In addition to his skills in the post, Anthony in the high pick-and-roll with Chandler has been a devastating crunchtime play that should serve them well in their playoff run. The Knicks may look a bit disjointed as they figure out a way to integrate Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, but once Felton returns, the pieces of their spread pick-and-roll attack should slide back into place.
I think this gets things exactly right. Both teams are having strong seasons, with the Nets getting red-hot since removing Avery Johnson from the bench, but it’s Anthony who makes the Knicks the more dangerous playoff threat, albeit that’s something I wouldn’t have properly acknowledged as recently as last season. Deron Williams has certainly upped his game since the departure of Johnson, clearly preferring the sweet sounds of P.J. Carlesimo’s voice to the angry chirping of the diminutive Johnson, but Anthony’s dominance this season gives the Knicks the type of late-game weapon necessary for a deep playoff run. He’s without a doubt the biggest difference between the two teams.
As for the Nets, I haven’t watched enough of them since the switch to really comment on what exactly has changed, but it’s always amazing to me how often the mid-season coaching change proves effective. Not to dismiss the skills of Carlesimo, but this is a fella whose player once loathed him so deeply he tried to strangle him to near death, now he’s somehow just what the doctor ordered. So for whatever reason, instead of plotting to slowly kill him with their bare hands, Carlesimo’s current charges are playing hard for him, making shots and turning around their season. Whatever works, I guess.