It wouldn't be fair at all to say the New York Knicks were winning with smoke and mirrors when they started the season 6-0.
They were defeating good teams behind Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith, with less conspicuous contributions from Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.
Coach Mike Woodson had them holding opponents to under 88 points per game in their first nine, and even with the Nets set up over in Brooklyn, Gotham had visions of the Knicks' '90s heyday dancing in their collective heads.
All of this without Amar'e Stoudemire or Iman Shumpert.
But as multiple cliches attest, things change quickly in New York -- and the Knicks have simply come back to earth. They've lost four of seven since Nov. 16, and have surrendered 410 points in their last four contests -- including 96 in Monday's long-awaited, Hurricane Sandy-delayed showdown with the Nets at the Barclays Center.
There are some similarities between the Knicks and the Toronto Maple Leafs -- mostly that a hot start to a season can quickly cloud the judgement of fans and media. The reality is there were some big holes in the Knicks lineup when they were playing well. Even while holding opponents to fewer points than last season, New York is near the bottom of the league in rebounds per game.
"We needed about three more Tysons," Woodson said of Chandler after Monday's loss.
Their perimeter defence is suspect. Due to the absence of Shumpert, Kidd has been playing a lot of shooting guard.
Plus how long can you really rely on Felton, whether he's lost weight or not?
You can point to the expected December return of Stoudemire and January return of Shump as solutions here, but are they really?
Well, one of them is certainly. A healthy Shumpert is a must for the Knicks, a lock-down defender who had endeared himself to the MSG faithful before tearing an ACL during last year's playoff series against Miami.
But what about Stoudemire?
Here we go again with questions about whether he and Anthony can properly co-exist. Stoudemire will never be mistaken for a defender, and the legitimate question is where Woodson's defensive advances will go once two wholly offensive players take the floor together. And will there be enough shots to go around?
Whatever happens, it's safe to say they have a true local rival in the Nets now.
Monday night's game
was raved about for its atmosphere in Brooklyn, and while there were some notable poor performances (Felton 3-of-19 shooting, the Nets' Joe Johnson 3-of-12) it had the makings of a classic overtime battle. Heck even Jerry Stackhouse (14 points), Rasheed Wallace (2-of-11, but both, awesomely, treys) and Kurt Thomas were in on the act -- three dudes drafted in 1995, the same year Canadian prep phenom Andrew Wiggins was born.
In terms of who's better between the Gotham teams, it's close. The Nets are right up there with Memphis in allowing the fewest points of any team in the league. It's going to be fun watching this storyline develop in the fight for the Atlantic Division.
After Monday's game, Nets co-owner Jay-Z tweeted "The city is under new management."
But not so fast HOVA. You can't really say that until the Nets have some protracted success at the Knicks' expense -- sort of, but not really like how the Mets dominated parts of the '80s while the Yankees came up short.
The Miami Heat have to be loving this; with all this New York basketball talk and the Mike D'Antoni story in L.A., for the first time since LeBron and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade, they are pretty much sliding under the radar early in the season.
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