NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Durant faces the Knicks for first time since picking the Nets

By Sports Desk January 13, 2021

The New York Knicks are on the slide as they prepare to take on the Brooklyn Nets for the first time this season.

Knicks fans appeared destined to be casting envious glances across New York after the Nets beat them to the signatures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in 2019, but the start of this season gave them a reason to feel slightly more content.

After finishing with a losing record for seven straight years, there was finally cause for optimism at Madison Square Garden early this season - the Knicks were above .500 through eight games for the first time since 2012-13, which was when they last made the postseason.

However, they have dropped their past three straight, losing by double figures on each occasion and failing to score more than 89 points, and concern has started to brew.

Things have not been straightforward for the Nets either, though.

While a 122-116 win against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday lifted them to a 6-6 record, Irving is said to be facing an NBA investigation following a video of him attending an event without a mask on.

Irving has missed four games due to "personal reasons", with the Nets refusing to elaborate on the situation. He is not expected to return to their line-up this week.

Durant has also missed time this season due to COVID-19 protocols and is set to feature in both games of a back-to-back for just the second time since returning from an Achilles tear.

TOP PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Kevin Durant

Durant has not taken long to start firing once again. He is averaging 29.9 points per game this season, second only to Bradley Beal (34.9) in the league.

Against the Nuggets he put up 34 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds, making him the first Nets player to have those numbers since the team moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey in 2012.

The last player to achieve that stat line for the franchise was Hall of Famer Jason Kidd in December 2006, when he had 38 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists against the Phoenix Suns.

Having sat out the previous campaign through injury, Durant is facing the Knicks for the first time since he snubbed them for the Nets.

Durant famously said "the cool thing right now is not the Knicks" after signing for the Nets and will be eager to show he made the right decision.

New York Knicks – Julius Randle

If the Knicks are to upset their local rivals they are going to need Randle to quickly get back on form.

He had season lows in points and rebounds (11 and five respectively) against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, while in only one game this season has he had fewer than the five assists he posted versus Charlotte (three against the Philadelphia 76ers).

Despite that lacklustre showing, he joined Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history to register at least 200 points, 115 rebounds and 70 assists in their team's first 10 games of a season.

He leads the Knicks in points (22.1), rebounds (11.2) and assists (6.9) per game in 2020-21.

KEY BATTLE: KNICKS NEED DEFENSIVE BOOST

The Nets have been one of the best teams at shooting the three this season with an average success rate of 39.3 per cent, which is only bettered by the Milwaukee Bucks (41.1) and the Los Angeles Clippers (42.4).

They average 118.8 points per game, which is 18.7 more than the Knicks, so it is clear that New York's defense is going to have a huge role to play.

They had the seventh-best defensive rating in the league prior to their three game skid, with injuries to Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks, Frank Ntilikina and Obi Toppin meaning coach Tom Thibodeau is demanding a lot from his key players.

RJ Barrett and Julius Randle are in the top five for minutes played this season, while they rank first and third respectively for minutes per game.

Thibodeau needs to strike a better balance to help boost his team's defense against one of the toughest and deepest opponents in the league.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nets have dropped their past two games against the Knicks, though they split the season series 2-2 last season.

Durant has not played against the Knicks for two years but averages 28.5 points with a 16-3 record since entering the league.

Related items

  • Steele posts lowest round of PGA Tour career to lead Sony Open Steele posts lowest round of PGA Tour career to lead Sony Open

    Brendan Steele recorded the lowest round of his PGA Tour career as he claimed a two-stroke lead after the third round at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

    American golfer Steele – who lost a play-off at last year's tournament – posted a nine-under-par 61 to rise six positions to the top of the leaderboard in Honolulu on Saturday.

    A three-time Tour champion, Steele was flawless at Waialae Country Club, where he drained nine birdies, including his final two holes to be 18 under overall.

    Steele holds the outright 54-hole lead for the second consecutive season at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He could become the first player to lose a play-off and win the same event the following season since Ryuji Imada in 2008.

    Kevin Na (61) and Joaquin Niemann are Steele's nearest challengers heading into the final round of the tournament.

    Na equalled his career low-round, while the American is now tied with Brandt Snedeker and Justin Thomas for the most rounds (four) of 61 or better on Tour since 2014.

    Peter Malnati (64), Charley Hoffman (64), Russell Henley (65), Chris Kirk (65) and Stewart Cink (65) are three shots off the pace.

    Overnight leader and Canadian Nick Taylor, meanwhile, dropped down the leaderboard following his two-under-par 68.

    Taylor ended the round tied for ninth on 14 under, alongside Marc Leishman (65), Keith Mitchell (63) and Daniel Berger (64).

  • Packers' Rodgers relishing first NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field Packers' Rodgers relishing first NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field

    Aaron Rodgers is relishing the opportunity to feature in a long-awaited NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field after the Green Bay Packers downed the Los Angeles Rams.

    Rodgers will play a conference title game at home for the first time in his stellar career following the Packers' 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFL playoffs on Saturday.

    Top MVP candidate Rodgers finished 23-of-36 passing for 296 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks, while the Super Bowl champion rushed for another TD.

    Either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints await the Packers in Green Bay on January 24 – the winner progressing to the Super Bowl – and star quarterback Rodgers is excited.

    "It means a lot. [Former Packers receiver] Jordy [Nelson] and I talked about it years ago. Made a lot of starts in this league without hosting the NFC Championship," Rodgers – whose four previous NFC Championship appearances have been on the road – told reporters when asked what it meant to host the title game in Green Bay.

    "Hopefully it is a little colder than it was tonight. The fans were special and the energy was special. There is a home-field advantage. The fact we get to host, can't say sleep in our own bed because there is still an antiquated idea of staying in a hotel the night before a game instead of your warm, cosy six-night a week bed. I know COVID-19 is involved in that. I'm still salty about that antiquated idea.

    "But it is meaningful to have fans at the game. Hopefully we can get even more if this worked out. It will be exciting. Enjoy this tonight, celebrate and to watch tomorrow, knowing whoever wins is coming to our place."

    Amid the coronavirus pandemic, less than 9,000 fans were allowed to attend the Packers-Rams matchup in Green Bay, where Rodgers recorded his 12th career playoff game with 250-plus passing yards and two-plus passing touchdowns.

    According to NFL Research, the only other payers in NFL history with 10-plus such games are Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (17), Joe Montana (12) and New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees (10).

    Rodgers – whose Green Bay are eyeing their first Super Bowl crown since 2010 – also eclipsed Brett Favre for most playoff completions (439) in Packers history.

    Per Stats Perform, Rodgers has thrown for multiple passing TDs in eight consecutive postseason games, tied with Joe Flacco for the longest streak in history. Now with 233 in his career, Rodgers also passed Favre for the most touchdown passes thrown at Lambeau Field (regular and postseason).

    "It felt like 50,000 when we ran out of the tunnel, it really did," Rodgers said. "It was such a special moment. Forgot how much you truly, truly miss having a crowd there ... it felt like, 50,000, 60,000."

    Rodgers added: ''I'm definitely a little emotional, just thinking about what we've been through. It got me emotional with the crowd out there today.''

  • Harden revels in historic debut as Nets coach Nash hails 'incredible' star Harden revels in historic debut as Nets coach Nash hails 'incredible' star

    Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden revelled in his record-setting debut, while head coach Steve Nash heaped praise on the former NBA MVP.

    Harden became the first player in NBA history to post a 30-point triple-double in his bow for a new team after the Nets outlasted the Orlando Magic 122-115 on Saturday.

    Eight-time All-Star Harden swapped the Houston Rockets for the Nets in a blockbuster trade on Thursday, and his first game in a Brooklyn jersey resulted in 32 points, a franchise-record 14 assists, 12 rebounds and four steals.

    Afterwards, Harden said: "It felt really good [to get the win]. The guys got after it.

    "Individually, I've got to stop turning the basketball over, but that comes with chemistry, that comes with practice, that comes with watching film.

    "So, first game I'm glad to get a win and we've just got to keep going."

    On the record, Harden was asked what it meant, and he told YES: "Nothing, I'm just happy we came away with the win. Those stats don't mean anything."

    "When you're paying with really, really good players, it's pretty easy," Harden said. "For me, I just gotta learn reads, learn where guys like the ball, just learn our personnel individually so once I get that, the turnovers will cut down, I can be more efficient."

    Disgruntled in Houston as he eyed an exit from the Rockets, Harden arrived in Brooklyn out of form, but the sharpshooter showed what the Nets are getting in a super team that also consists of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

    Harden was eight-of-18 from the field and three-of-10 shooting from three-point range in 40 minutes, while he also had nine turnovers.

    First-year coach Nash, who now leads a genuine championship contender, hailed Harden post-game.

    "I can't say I'm surprised," Nash said. "We had a pretty big simple size of him doing that [for] however many years in he's been in the league. But it's still not easy. He's still not in his best condition yet, he's joined a new group.

    "Basically no practice time, and figured it out on the fly. He had a bunch of turnovers just because he's new to the team and the group and you’re thrown out there in an NBA where the other team is an excellent coached-basketball team....But all the things he did on the floor were incredible for his first game."

    Reuniting with former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate Harden, Durant led the way with a game-high 42 points as the Nets improved to 8-6 following a third consecutive win.

    Durant also made franchise history for most consecutive 25-plus point games with nine.

    "James, he played the same way he always played, to be honest," Durant said. "He played the same way he was playing in Houston, being a pass-first guard, trying to get guys good looks. He played the same way.

    "Coach put him at the point, I think that's his natural position, is point and combo guard. For him to get 14 assists, 12 rebounds for us at the point guard was key."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.