A final city matchup this season
Ever since Joe Johnson arrived in Brooklyn and stepped into the borough’s rivalry with Manhattan, the moment he became a Net and inherited their rivalry with the Knicks, he has fueled it by insisting the Nets are the city’s top team. They haven’t been, but tomorrow’s final game between the two teams this season offers one last chance.
It’s the Knicks’ usual 3:30 p.m. matinee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the brotherly love at the Garden will be infused with a playoff vibe. The Knicks have won the past two meetings, and the Nets say they owe them.
“We’ve got to go in there with the mind-frame that we understand it’s going to be a hostile environment. And some way, somehow, we’ve got to come out of there on top,” Johnson said. “They beat us the last two times, so we owe them.
“It’s definitely hard not to get caught up in it, because everybody’s always talking about it. I mean honestly, every time we play them it feels like a playoff-type game on the floor, the atmosphere, so that’s what I expect Monday.’’
After having their Barclays Center opener against the Knicks postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, the Nets won the rescheduled clash on Nov. 26 in overtime. But the Knicks took the last two meetings, the most recent a 100-86 rout in the Garden as the crowd mocked “Brook-lyn! Brook-lyn!” chants in typical Manhattan derision.
Both losses were part of a poor stretch for the Nets, dropping eight of 10 overall, and three games after that Garden defeat, coach Avery Johnson was fired. But the Nets have been a different team since interim coach P.J. Carlesimo took over, having won eight of their past nine and 10 of their past 12.
“It’s a really big game for us. They’ve beaten us twice in a row. It’s a huge game. We’re only a couple games back of them, so it’s big,’’ said Deron Williams, who criticized Johnson’s system days before he was fired, but has led the Nets’ resurgence since.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have cooled after an 18-5 start. They’re 25-13 and just a game behind Miami in the Eastern Conference standings, but they’ve split their last 10 games. The Nets — 24-16 and fifth in the East — are just two games behind them, looking to cut that in half.
“It’s very important,” Joe Johnson said. “It’s like two games. This is a game we really have to focus in on, and know what’s at hand in order for us to move up in the standings. The Knicks are playing great basketball, so it’s going to be tough to go into Madison Square Garden and get a win, but I’m sure we can do it.”