With under half of a season left, the Knicks and Nets are making their push for the playoffs
By: Christian DiBuono
The Knicks and Nets have been surpassing the expectations and projections made by analysts before the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season.
Last December, ESPN predicted that the Nets would possibly end the season with about forty-three wins and take the 5th seed in the East and that the Knicks would be a bottom-five team with only twenty-two wins. This season, however, the Nets are one of the best teams in the NBA led by all-star players Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden who they received in a blockbuster trade last January.
The Knicks, on the other hand, led by coach Tom Thibodeau, are currently in the mix with several teams in a fight over the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth seeds of the eastern conference. With young players such as All-star Julius Randle, 2019 NBA draft pick R.J. Barrett, and 2021 rookie of the year contender Immanuel Quickley the Knicks have surprised everyone in the NBA with their new culture and a competitive play we have not seen from the Knicks since 2013.
On the path towards making the playoffs this year, each team has been able to win games based on their different styles of play.
The Brooklyn Nets and their Star Power
Coming into this season, the Brooklyn Nets were given more hype than the previous season due to the return of Kevin Durant. Even though the team was led by two phenomenal scorers in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, along with solid, productive players such as Joe Harris, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan, the Nets only won seven of their first thirteen games.
The slow start to the season could be contributed to the Nets losing Spencer Dinwiddie to an ACL injury, and the bench not being as productive as they need to be. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving was facing criticism for missing games due to personal reasons and being at a party with no mask on.
Despite the controversy surrounding the team, the Nets pulled off a four-team blockbuster trade with Houston, Indiana, and Cleveland to acquire James Harden. In exchange, Houston received Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, four future first-round picks, and four first-round pick swaps in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027. Indiana received Caris LeVert and a 2023 second-round pick and Cleveland received Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince from the Nets.
Since acquiring Harden, the Nets have won twenty out of their last twenty-seven games. The Nets are currently one of the best offensive teams in the league as they are first in the NBA in field goal percentage, second in three-point percentage, fourth in assists per game, first in true shooting percentage, first in effective field goal percentage, and first in offensive rating.
Despite having one of the worst defenses in the league, the Nets remain as one of the top three teams in the eastern conference. With the recent addition of Blake Griffin, the Nets could possibly get more depth in their lineup which was necessary after they traded Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert.
The New York Knicks New Culture
The Knicks have not made the playoffs or recorded a winning season since the 2012-2013 season when Carmelo Anthony was on the team. For the last seven seasons, the Knicks had become the laughing stocks of the NBA because of their consistent losing and owner James Dolan.
Coming into this season, analysts predicted that the Knicks would once again be one of the worst teams in the league since their roster consisted of mostly the same players from last season in which they were 21-45 before the season was shut down. However, the Knicks have become far better than what the critics thought they would be.
For the first time in a while, the Knicks are amid playing for a playoff spot. With new coach Tom Thibodeau, who they signed to a five-year deal last summer, the Knicks are creating a winning culture emphasized on grit, grind, hustle, and defense. Under Thibodeau’s style of play, the Knicks have become one of the best defensive teams in the league as they are first in opponent’s points per game, and fourth in defensive rating.
This year’s Knicks consist of young, talented, and productive players including Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley.
Despite the Knicks being one of the worst offensive teams, Julius Randle has been their best player who has averaged over 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists per game. RJ Barrett has improved slightly from his rookie season while averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Immanuel Quickley has been playing like one of the best rookies from the previous draft and has been a reliable player for the Knicks off the bench.
With the recent addition of veteran point guard Derrick Rose and the roster having a good mix of veteran and young players, the Knicks will look to keep their winning momentum and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.