The Knicks have heard the hype — well-deserved — about the Big 3, a collection of MVP candidates who have united to lead the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
They include superstars whom the Knicks once chased in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, complemented by this season’s addition of a third superstar in James Harden. It is an enviable collection of players who take turns carrying the Nets to win after win.
But as the Knicks prepare to face the Nets at Barclays Center on Monday night, with the possibility that the trio could be on the court together, the Knicks insisted that they have an answer to the Big 3.
"We have a big five," Reggie Bullock said.
Sitting next to Bullock, Julius Randle corrected him: "Big 15."
"Big 15," Bullock agreed. "So we are not really concerned about their Big 3. We know what kind of basketball we will be able to come into the game and play. We are focused on our team. The game plan that Coach drew up. Other than that, that’s what we’re focusing on. The Knicks."
If they sounded bold, that may have been boosted by the Knicks’ 44-point win in Detroit on Saturday night, which snapped a three-game losing streak and raised their record to 25-25. The reality, though, is that the Nets, who were tied for first place in the Eastern Conference before losing to Chicago on Sunday, have a roster filled with talent beyond the three biggest names.
The Nets already have beaten the Knicks twice this season, but it is important for the Knicks to prove they can cope with the Eastern Conference’s best. Right now they are near the bottom of the conference’s playoff picture — which could set them up for a first-round playoff matchup with the Nets.
"We’re worried about us," Randle said. "We have a whole team of guys. We try to play with one another and play hard and play with energy. We feel like if we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win against anybody. It’s not about them. It’s not about who they have or don’t have. We worry about us and what we have to do to go out there and compete on a high level on a night-to-night basis."
"The same thing we think about with every opponent," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We know how talented they are. We are going to have to be ready. Even if one is out, they still have a ton of talent. They’ve added more talent to their team. But we know if we defend and rebound and keep our turnovers down, we are more than capable. We have to study and be ready to go when that ball goes up."
The Nets certainly claim their own 15 with the additions of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge in recent weeks supplementing an already powerful roster. The Knicks are at least relatively healthy, missing only Mitchell Robinson, who likely is out for the remainder of the regular season with a fractured right foot. Despite piling up minutes for his core players, Thibodeau has preached that every player has a role and has to be ready to play it every night.
"It should be the mentality of every team in this league," Bullock said. "There are 15 players on your roster. With our team that we have, with our leaders and coaches and our leader Jules on the court, that’s why we’re here. We’re here to compete, we’re here to win games. We know how great we can be . . . yeah, we’re the big 15."