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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Knicks movin’ on, Nets movin’ up in 2017-18 NBA season

Playoffs aren’t on horizon for either the Knicks or the Nets, but Brooklyn appears closer.

 Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina is defended by Brooklyn

 Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina is defended by Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell in a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

In theory, the great thing about having two NBA teams in New York is that it should double the chances of seeing some decent basketball.

Some years the Nets are up. Some years the Knicks are up. There have been special years when both were pretty good.

And then there’s the last two seasons, which from a combined win-loss perspective have been the most dismal back-to-back campaigns since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Over the past two years, the Nets and Knicks have gone 104-224. Last season, the two teams totaled just 51 wins, which is the second-worst combined season in the rivalry’s history

Oh, such darkness. Still, there does appear to be a little light at the end of the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel.

While both teams enter this season in major rebuild mode, the Nets have a clear plan, are a few years ahead in the process and could end up being interesting to watch. In fact, judging from all the chatter on Twitter, the Nets’ backcourt has the potential to be the most exciting new pairing in Brooklyn since the advent of avocado toast.

Newcomer D’Angelo Russell should be super motivated after the way Magic Johnson shoved him out the door in Los Angeles. The No. 2 overall pick in 2015, Russell has the raw talent. Now that he is playing for a team focused on player development, he has a chance to mature and acquire some of the leadership skills he lacked with the Lakers. He joins Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season but played very well when healthy. The Nets (20-62 last year) were 13-23 in games Lin played, including 10-12 in his final 22 games once he returned after the All-Star break.

In a league where the lines between traditional point guards and two guards are increasingly blurred, Lin and Russell should flourish in Kenny Atkinson’s motion offense. With leading scorer Brook Lopez having been traded to the Lakers, the team is still one talented player away from contending for the playoffs.

Still, they are an up-and-coming team good enough to win 30 games, which is a pretty impressive prospect considering the deep hole the franchise has been digging itself out of since giving up three No. 1 draft picks to Boston in the Kevin Garnett/ Paul Pierce trade.

While the Nets are ascending, the Knicks are so dazed after Phil Jackson’s bizarre and baffling three-year tenure that it’s hard to say which direction they are headed.

President Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry are committed to building a young team around Kristaps Porzingis and have given a lot of lip service to establishing the kind of team culture that does things the right way. Thankfully, that means we should see an end to the bickering and badmouthing that marked a Jackson era — the Knicks went 80-166 — in which his only true allegiance seemed to be to his outdated triangle offense.

In the glass-is-half-filled department, the Knicks enter the season with some interesting young talent, albeit what seems a random and disjointed collection of it.

Porzingis obviously heads that list. Playing in the shadow of Carmelo Anthony last season, he averaged 18 points and seven rebounds. This season, his goal is to make the All-Star team, which doesn’t seem out of reach. The biggest question, however, is whether he’s ready in his third year in the league to be a team leader.

Other young players worth getting excited about include Tim Hardaway Jr., an above average guard doomed to be harshly judged because the team decided to overpay him to get him out of Atlanta. Willy Hernangomez will be looking to build on an impressive rookie season. And first-round pick Frank Ntilikina hasn’t shown much in the preseason as he’s battled injuries, but remains a fascinating prospect.

What the youth movement will mean in the long term remains to be seen. In the short term, expect to see a lot of bad basketball. Hardaway and Enes Kanter, who arrived in the Melo trade, are notably bad defenders and they join a team that was ranked 22nd last year.

The offense could be a bigger concern. You can say what you want about Anthony’s game, but now that he’s been traded to Oklahoma City, the Knicks are going to miss the way he put the ball in the basket. With Derrick Rose in Cleveland, the team needs to replace 40-plus points a night just to get to the level they were at last year.

So there you have it. One city, two teams, no playoffs.

At least not this year.

New York Sports