New York (14-13) improved to 3-3 without injured starting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 113-109 in overtime Tuesday night. Kristaps Porzingis had 37 points and 11 rebounds and Michael Beasley added six of his 13 points in the extra period for the Knicks, who have won three straight on two occasions this season.
But success has been hard to come by on the road, where New York have dropped six straight and are 1-8 outside Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have given up an average of 111.8 points during their road skid, with opponents averaging 11.8 3-pointers and shooting 50.7 percent.
The Nets (11-15), meanwhile, are looking for their fourth win in five games after beating Washington 103-98 on Tuesday night. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson each scored 16 points to lead seven players in double figures as Brooklyn attempted a season-high 43 3-pointers and shot a season-worst 23.3 percent from beyond the arc by making just ten of them.
It is uncertain if center Jahlil Okafor will make his much-anticipated debut for the Nets in this game. He was acquired from Philadelphia on December 8 along with guard Nik Stauskas for veteran forward Trevor Booker. Okafor was active for Tuesday night’s victory; the third overall pick in the 2015 draft logged just 25 minutes in two games with the 76ers before falling out of the rotation.
Three keys to the game
The Knicks need to learn how to finish teams off - New York have made the fourth quarters of games exciting in both directions this season, rallying to victory from a double-digit deficit on a pair of occasions, but it has trended the other way recently in which they are struggling to protect leads late.
In beating Atlanta, the Knicks nearly squandered a nine-point lead in the final 2:22, while on Tuesday night they let the Lakers score the final five points of regulation before winning in overtime. While winning is a learning process, the Knicks can ill-afford a painful lesson learned if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Nets lack shot discipline - Brooklyn are using a score-by-committee approach while shooting guard D'Angelo Russell is sidelined, and that is probably the best approach given coach Ken Atkinson does not have a crunch-time scorer.
The Nets, though, are fifth in 3-point attempts, tenth in 3-pointers made and 25th in 3-point shooting percentage. The goal is to reverse that trend, and Brooklyn have not done themselves any favors of late by going 28 for 107 (26.2 percent) beyond the arc in their last three games.
Ntilikina gaining ground - The eighth overall pick in this year's draft, Frank Ntilikina has shown the flashes of greatness and inconsistencies common to all first-year players. But the French point guard looks to have turned a corner in his last six games after sitting out November 29 with a sprained ankle.
Ntilikina has averaged 9.2 points and 3.0 assists in his last six games and while he's shooting just 38.3 percent (18 for 47), he has been judicious about taking 3-pointers, making seven of 14 in those games.
Matchup to watch
PF Kristaps Porzingis vs PF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Porzingis bullied the Nets in the first game between the teams this season, totaling 30 points and nine rebounds as the Knicks rolled to a 107-86 home win on October 27. He outscored Brooklyn's entire starting frontcourt by 12, and Hollis-Jefferson endured a miserable game with six points on two of eight shooting.
Porzingis has reached double figures in all seven matchups with Brooklyn, averaging 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, but in this breakout season he's enjoying, Hollis-Jefferson needs to keep him at those averages to give the Nets a chance to win.
New York Knicks projected starting lineup
PG - Jarrett Jack | SG - Courtney Lee | C - Enes Kanter | SF - Lance Thomas | PF - Kristaps Porzingis
Brooklyn Nets projected starting lineup
PG - Spencer Dinwiddie | SG - Allen Crabbe | C - Tyler Zeller | SF - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson | PF - DeMarre Carroll
Knicks center Enes Kanter continues to put up consistent numbers and has averaged 13.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in his last seven games after missing three with a sore back. He had 12 points and six rebounds in the October victory but has recorded only one double-double in seven matchups with Brooklyn while averaging 12.0 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Jarrett Jack, who played with the Nets for a full season and nearly half of another, seems to do his best work with a point to prove. In two matchups against his hometown Atlanta, he had 19 points in one game and ten assists in the other. In the win over the Nets, Jack finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Jack has averaged 10.1 points and 5.8 assists in 23 games against the Nets, and he's usually good for at least one 3-pointer since he is 21 for 45 from beyond the arc in those contests.
Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is looking to post back-to-back double-doubles for the first time in his career after totaling 11 points and a career-high 12 assists Tuesday night. His previous career high came against the Knicks in October, but Dinwiddie scored four points while taking only three shots.
LeVert continues to thrive as Brooklyn's top option off the bench, averaging 16.5 points and 7.3 assists in his last four games while shooting 52.5 percent. As a starter in the loss to the Knicks, he was two of eight from the field and finished with seven points, four turnovers and two assists.
The Nets are two-point favorites and have treated bettors well of late. They have covered the last four times when playing an opponent with a winning record and are 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 games overall.
Brooklyn are also 5-2 against the spread in their last seven home games and are out to extend a pair of trends as the home team has covered eight times in the last ten meetings and the favorite has done likewise in five of the prior six matchups.
The Knicks have failed to cover in their last four games against conference rivals and are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games. New York are also 2-8 versus the number in their last ten divisional matchups.
The over/under is 215, which is a toss-up given the Knicks shortcomings defensively on the road and the Nets not being able to put up a high amount consistently. Brooklyn have been under that total in six of their last eight games, with one of the two over hits against Houston.
New York have cleared that mark just twice in their nine road games, with one of the occasions also against the Rockets.
The two biggest areas the Knicks have struggled on the road this season is defensively and shooting 3-pointers, with the latter a 33.2 percent mark while making just 7.1 per game.
While the Nets don't have any one player on their roster who can get them 30 points like Porzingis can, they do have a bunch of players who could get hot at the same time and shoot the Knicks all the way back to Manhattan. LeVert, Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe must outscore the Knicks backcourt the way Porzingis did to Brooklyn's frontcourt in October.
This is a game where the Knicks will miss Hardaway, and given their recent struggles in the fourth quarter, a momentum swing on the road in such an instance would likely be too much to overcome. Look for Brooklyn to post a 102-95 win.
The game will be televised locally on MSG Network and YES Network. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EST.
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