EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In his three years in this area, particularly now with things ramped up a notch with the franchise's move to Brooklyn, Deron Williams repeatedly has been reminded of the Nets' little-brother syndrome.
He's quite clear on how much Nets fans, along with those in the team hierarchy, want to be better than the Knicks and grab some of the New York and national limelight from their crosstown rivals.
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So just imagine what it would feel like if the Nets beat out the Knicks and capture the Atlantic Division crown.
"You can say we've been the JV at times," Williams said after practice Thursday. "I think it definitely would mean a lot to clinch the division title. To the fans, to the organization. I think it would be huge. There's no doubt about that."
Even Joe Johnson, in the short time he's called the city home, has learned all about the significance of what it would mean to finish ahead of the Knicks.
"I know definitely being a New Yorker, being here for what, six or seven months," he said. "I understand how the fans feel about the Nets and the Knicks. So I know how important it is."
With the first-place Knicks banged up and struggling, holding a one-game lead over the Nets after Thursday night's 105-90 loss to Portland, the division championship is there for the taking. The Nets say they aren't truly thinking about that, though, focusing only on themselves.
Maybe they can't see past that two-week road trip and start of "the merry- go-round,'' as interim coach P.J. Carlesimo termed their upcoming excursion all over the country, an eight-game road trip that begins Monday and lasts until April 3.
"I don't think about it," said Carlesimo, who also indicated he soon will get Kris Humphries back into the mix. "We're still in my mind still too far behind them to be worrying about the division and standings and stuff like that. That trip is such a monster trip.
"To me, if we get back from Utah and we're close in the standings, then I think you can start saying, 'Hey guys, we got whatever we got left, six games left, and we can do this or we can get a tiebreaker or stuff like that.' ''
Carlesimo did admit that hanging a division banner in the Nets' inaugural season in Brooklyn and earning the franchise's first division crown since 2005-06 would be special. If it came at the Knicks' expense, then so be it.
"Forget that we're both in the same city," he said. "Winning a division is significant because it does get you top-four seed and we don't have a lot of division championships hanging here. Six teams win that every year . . . I just think whatever happens, great. Would I like to win the division? Absolutely, because it would mean we're in the top four."