A little more than two hours before game time Brooklyn Nets’ wing Joe Harris wandered out of the visitors' locker room at Madison Square Garden and stood off to the side of the court, stretching and preparing himself for what would certainly be an increased workload on this odd night.
A day after the Nets had used the help of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen for a stirring victory, they were gone, part of a massive four-team trade that brought James Harden to the Nets. But with the trade not even officially completed or announced, Harden wasn’t with the team and neither were the pieces who had been sent out, leaving this game in a bit of a limbo state.
On the other side the Knicks prepared for a diminished Nets’ squad on this night and the thought that another star was arriving in Brooklyn to distance them from teams like the Knicks. The Nets were shorthanded with the players dealt out and awaiting the arrival, as well as wondering when they will get Kyrie Irving to return to the team from his self-imposed sabbatical. But they still had Kevin Durant and that was enough to worry the Knicks.
"I think it’s part of the NBA and I think when you look at it over the course of time you’ve seen a lot of those games in which the trades occurred and teams were shorthanded and they come out and they play with great intensity," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "This team is different because of Durant and the problems that he poses. Then you also add in the COVID and the things we’re going through I think every night it’s about adjustments. You have to adapt quickly. So this is no different. Just be ready for whoever they have and we have to know them well."
The Knicks were hardly in any position to take any team lightly, not with a three-game losing streak and an inability to score anywhere close to what the Nets did before this trade. The Nets entered the game averaging 118.8 points per game, ranking third in the NBA. The Knicks are 29th, scoring 100.1 - and over the last three games it has been 89, 89 and 88.
Thibodeau has had experience on a staff of a team trying to balance stars, not that different from the group that Brooklyn has united with Harden, Durant and Irving.
"I know in Boston when we had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, that was the big question," Thibodeau said of the championship team that he was part of as an assistant coach. "I think great players always figure out how to play with each other. They also make other players a lot better. So I think it’s not as hard as people would make it out to be. I think the biggest challenge is the willingness for everyone to sacrifice. If that happens usually the result is very good."
While the Nets are importing another star, Thibodeau shrugged off the impact on his team’s efforts.
"For us, we have to focus on us and the players that we have," he said. "Just focus on our improvement and just doing the things that are necessary to get better each and every day. We’re not concerned with them. They worry about themselves and we have to worry about us. So that’s what we’ll do. That’s the beauty – our division is loaded. We know that. We know the makeup of each roster and we know that we have a lot of work to do and we’re looking forward to that challenge."