EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just in case Deron Williams needs a refresher to remind him of the intensified rivalry the Nets and Knicks are immersed in, New Yorkers are always happy to provide one.
Particularly those Brooklynites. Lose to the Knicks in the season opener? Fuhgeddaboudit, they say.
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"Yeah, people stop me a lot on the streets," Williams said after practice at the PNY Center Tuesday, "especially in Brooklyn, coming out of the arena, around the arena, telling us how we need to beat the Knicks. We definitely hear it. We definitely know it's there."
The Nets' first glimpse at their crosstown mates comes Wednesday night in neutral territory, when they host the Knicks at Nassau Coliseum in their preseason finale. It's their last tuneup before the Nov. 1 opener against the Knicks at Barclays Center. The starters will see their fair share of minutes, and the Nets want to gauge the progress they've made in correcting some of the defensive mistakes they made in their last two preseason games.
But they downplayed any extra incentive in knocking the Knicks off Wednesday night. "Nah, it's just another game," Williams said. "This rivalry with them is getting blown up by the media, but internally we haven't talked about it. We haven't said anything about it. We are looking forward to playing these guys. We are looking forward to forming a rivalry. But it's not there yet."
Maybe not on the court. But off the court? That's a different story, as Avery Johnson has learned since the Nets planted their flag at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
"I've been asked about this quote-unquote rivalry in the last four to five months more than I had my first two years," the Nets coach said. "So, I feel it. I feel it more when we are out and about in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I'm going to restaurants in Manhattan and guys are saying, 'Brooklyn' or they're saying, 'The Knicks are still going to beat you guys.'
"Or I'm in Brooklyn and the fans are going crazy with their Brooklyn Nets gear on and they are saying, 'We can't wait to play the Knicks.' . . . We hear it more and that's something that we've got to manage."
It's a phenomenon that begins in earnest at the Nets' old Long Island digs, the place they called home before leaving for New Jersey in 1977. That's why there may be a little added electricity in the stands, even if the players don't think that will juice things up on the court.
"Naw, not at this point," Joe Johnson said. "We have some things that we want to work on and incorporate in a game situation. But I think it's more of us just getting continuity down before Nov. 1, the real game."