NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets, losers of nine out of their last 12 games, head just a short way over to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to face the New York Knicks.
The Knicks, coming off a 22-point thrashing at Phoenix — the team’s biggest win in more than two months — will host the team’s final matchup with its cross-bridge rival undoubtedly feeling good about its chances. New York has won the other three matchups with the Nets this season by an average of more than 14 points.
“We like to play Brooklyn,” Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis told reporters on Monday. “I mean, we look better against teams that are not above .500, obviously.”
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The Nets put up a fight in the two teams’ second matchup, a 111-104 Knicks win in Brooklyn on Dec. 14, cutting New York’s lead to three with just more than three minutes to play. But the Knicks, who won their other two matchups with the Nets by a combined 34 points, built back the cushion down the stretch as Courtney Lee had a game-high 27 points.
Porzingis missed the tail end of that matchup, but his presence is pivotal to a Knicks team that has slumped of late. Porzingis is averaging 23.1 points for the season but is averaging just 20.1 points on 41 percent shooting in January, the fourth straight month his scoring has dropped.
Porzingis has had two of his best games of the season against the Nets, however, including a 30-point performance on Oct. 27 in a 107-86 win and 26 points on 8 of 14 shooting on Jan. 15 in a 119-104 win.
“I tried to (slow) down mentally — that’s helping,” Porzingis told reporters after that game. “I’m not thinking I need to score as much. I just want to be involved. When shots come I’m going to take them, higher-percentage shots and not fighting to get a bucket. I’m trying to make it easier for myself. Just trying to make the right play in every post-up, slow down and take a better shot.”
The Nets, who have lost back-to-back games by 14 or more points, have struggled to find a go-to guy themselves. Third-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and guard Spencer Dinwiddie averages 13.1. Only forward DeMarre Carroll averages at least 12 points on the rest of the team. As a team, the Nets are averaging 105.2 points per game, 15th in the NBA.
Hollis-Jefferson has reportedly caught the Knicks’ eye as well, as the New York Post’s Marc Berman reported on Monday that New York had inquired about acquiring Hollis-Jefferson in a trade.
Talk about bad timing, though: Hollis-Jefferson is expected to miss Tuesday’s matchup with a strained groin that he suffered on Friday in a loss to Milwaukee.
“I think it’s a day-to-day thing,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after the loss to the Bucks. “I’m an optimistic guy, and I know we need him.”