Nets coach Avery Johnson was confident of one thing long before the Nets tipped off against the Knicks Monday night: "If we are fortunate tonight," he said, "we are not going to have a parade. We have to get on a plane and go to Boston tomorrow and play anyway."
Johnson has been forced to walk a fine line with the Knicks-Nets budding rivalry. He understands the importance of the Nets making some inroads to show they're no longer the franchise that spent so many years in relative obscurity in the New Jersey swamps.
But he also didn't want the Nets to be too wrapped up in the first of four scheduled meetings between the two teams this season. They meet next at the Barclays Center on Dec. 11.
"You can't lose the division tonight, you can't win it," Johnson said. "Like we've said, it's going to be a dogfight in this division all year. You've got some teams in our division that are pretty good. So, it's going to be a dogfight all year."
Little help here
With the game delayed 25 days due to superstorm Sandy, the Nets had a chance to grow as a team. But Johnson would not say that was a good thing.
"I don't want to say that," he said, "because in some ways I'm going to come across as being insensitive to what happened in terms of the hurricane. But we do know a little bit [more] about what we are doing now than we would have back on Nov. 1."
Monday night's win put the Nets in first this late in the season for the first time since Jan. 30, 2007, when they were tied with the Raptors . . . Deron Williams' 8.5 assists per game entering ranked fifth in the NBA.