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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks-Nets not a true rivalry just yet

Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets takes a

Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets takes a shot against J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks. (Nov. 26, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Tyson Chandler probably put it best before the Knicks and Nets met in Brooklyn for the first time Monday night. Chandler said it's not a rivalry because there's no playoff history, they don't dislike each other and they haven't battled in meaningful games.

That could change, though.

Chandler said he feels "more animosity toward the Heat and the Celtics" right now, and rightfully so. They eliminated the Knicks the last two postseasons, and were the Eastern Conference's two best teams last season.

Heading into this season, most observers believed everything in the East would go through Miami and Boston. The Celtics are the five-time defending Atlantic Division champs until they're unseated. But the Knicks and Nets are playing as if they want to end Boston's reign.

The Knicks and Nets ended November with 11-4 records. Both are ahead of Boston, and the Nets already have beaten the Celtics twice.

"As far as the division is concerned," Paul Pierce said, "it's about as competitive as it's ever been since I've been with the Boston Celtics."

It's a long season and things can change quickly. For now and the foreseeable future, there is a reason for excitement and optimism for Knicks and Nets fans. The same goes for New York basketball fans after Monday's intense overtime game, which was won by the Nets.

The Knicks wanted the game, wanted to prove they're the undisputed Kings of New York. It was an important game for them, not just another road game, as they said. The much-improved Nets wanted to show the Knicks have competition on the basketball court more so than with fans, because Brooklyn can't win that battle. It led to a playoff-like game and atmosphere and perhaps a burgeoning rivalry.

"Why not?" Carmelo Anthony said. "They're here in Brooklyn. We're in the city. We're in the same division. We see them four times a year. I guess you can say this is the start of something."

Their final three games will be played before the All-Star break -- including Dec. 11 at Barclays Center. So there will be no late-season battles that really mean something. But there's always the possibility of a playoff meeting. That would really be the start of something.


Pop's plan

Gregg Popovich can coach his team any way he wants to coach them.

If he sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Long Island's Danny Green home instead of playing them against the Suns, Warriors or Wizards, commissioner David Stern wouldn't have said or done anything. But because it was a TNT game against the defending champion Heat, Stern apologized to fans, called it "unacceptable" and fined the Spurs $250,000.

The fans still were entertained by what was a fun game. The undermanned-by-design Spurs almost beat Miami.


D'Antoni's regret

Mike D'Antoni said he "shouldn't have gone to New York" four years ago. Some Knicks fans probably feel the same way.

Kidding aside, what D'Antoni told was less about the Knicks and more about Steve Nash. D'Antoni might have felt differently if the Knicks had won more and he hadn't had a falling-out with their best player. But you can't blame him for saying he never should have left Nash.

"You don't get to coach somebody like him too many times," D'Antoni said. "It's pretty sacred and you need to take care of it. I didn't."

D'Antoni said he "got frustrated" and "probably irrationally made a decision." He clashed with former Suns GM Steve Kerr and left Phoenix and Nash.


TNT crew buries Knicks

Knicks fans get caught up in -- and worked up by -- whatever Charles Barkley says. This should get the blood boiling: During Monday's TNT telecast, Barkley said the Nets are the better New York team.

"You take away Carmelo Anthony, the Nets are better at every other position," Barkley said. "Also, they've got a better bench than the Knicks. They've got a better team."

Queens-born Kenny Smith probably added more fuel to Knicks fans fire.

"The Brooklyn Nets, they have a chance to steal fans," he said. "When you're a 12-year-old or 22-year-old, you don't know the Knicks have a great franchise. You just know them as a team that has lost a lot in the first round or didn't make the playoffs. The Nets could own their borough and make the Knicks be called the Manhattan Knicks."


No dunk for Novak

Steve Novak's teammates were up off the bench after he stole a pass in Milwaukee and headed for the basket. They wanted the three-point marksman to dunk it, but they were disappointed as the 6-10 Novak laid it up off the backboard.

"White men can't jump, that's all I can say," Tyson Chandler said. "That was terrible. He almost missed the layup, too. He should have just run out to the three-point line."

Novak joked about it on Twitter.

"After reading my Twitter feed, tomorrow's one and only mission in practice . . . PRACTICE DUNKING! LOL #whiteguyproblems."

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