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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Nets have their eye on the prize, not rivalry with Knicks

James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots

James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots against Reggie Bullock #25 of the New York Knicks during their game at Barclays Center on March 15, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Rivalry? What rivalry?

The Knicks-Nets game at Barclays Center on Monday night wasn’t a battle for local bragging rights. No, not this year. The Nets have their eyes on something much bigger.

The Nets don’t care that this has forever been a Knicks town. They don’t care that they might be a bigger national story than local story. They just care that they have a legitimate shot to win it all this year.

The Nets are the hottest team in basketball. Their 117-112 win over the Knicks on Monday night was their 13th in the last 14 games.

Yes, it got a little tense at the end as the Knicks made a competitive game out of something that had been on the precipice of a blowout.

Still, the way Kyrie Irving and James Harden weaved around the rest of the players on the court, the game somehow never really seemed in doubt.

Even when the Knicks were down by three and had a chance to tie with seven seconds left, the Nets took the court with the swagger of a team that thought it was going to win.

In the end, Irving came up with the big play, forcing Julius Randle to commit a traveling violation rather than put up what could have been a tying three-pointer. At least that’s how referee Scott Foster saw it. Randle was upset enough by the call that he had to be restrained by his teammates after the game as he tried to charge toward the officials.

Harden, who was playing the Knicks for the first time in a Nets uniform, didn’t seem bothered by the number of Knicks fans at Barclays Center

"I got a taste of it tonight. You could hear the Knicks fans tonight in the building," Harden said. "We understand the tradition. I’m just happy to be a part of it with the way we are playing."

"We can’t get caught up in the New York rivalry thing," Nets center DeAndre Jordan, who incidentally used to be a Knick, said before the game.

The Nets are the most talent-laden team to play in the New York area since Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Earl Monroe were winning titles at Madison Square Garden in the 1970s.

In Irving, Harden and Kevin Durant, the Nets have three of the top 15 scorers in the NBA. They’re such a formidable trio that even Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau believes they could rank right up there with the most-stacked teams of all time.

"Yeah, no question," he said before the game. "Obviously, you can’t answer that until after the season, but when you look at how a lot of these type of teams have been put together, they’re up there."

The Nets also are up there when it comes to popular opinion, second in the league (behind the Lakers and highest in Nets history) in merchandise sales at the NBA.com store for the first half of the season. The Nets had three players in the top 10 with Durant at No. 3, Irving at No. 6 and Harden at No. 9.

No New York-area NBA team has won a title since the Knicks in 1973. The Patrick Ewing Knicks came the closest, getting to Game 7 of the Finals in 1994. The Latrell Sprewell-Allan Houston Knicks got to the Finals again during a lockout-shortened season in 1999 but lasted only five games against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The Jason Kidd Nets got to the Finals in 2002 and 2003 but couldn’t get past the Lakers and the Spurs.

These Nets have the talent to not only get to the Finals but to win it, at least offensively.

The Knicks have been a good story. No one expected them to be playing .500 ball this late in the season.

If they can get through a tough second half, it’s possible that Monday night’s game was a preview of the first round of the playoffs.

But for now, this is not much of a rivalry.

New York Sports