Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives against Nets center Nic Claxton...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives against Nets center Nic Claxton in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Two words on the newly reconstituted state of the Knicks-Nets “rivalry,” if I may: Spencer Dinwiddie.

Spencer Dinwiddie! Rarely has a more affable, more likable, more inoffensive mensch graced our local NBA courts.

Now here we were, with the Nets visiting the Knicks on Monday night for the first time since the trade deadline, and Dinwiddie was back as a face of the franchise.

This is no way to generate hoops hate, even after Dinwiddie scored 20 first-half points and 28 overall — and drew a technical foul! — in the Knicks’ 124-106 victory, which ended a nine-game losing streak against the Nets.

Not after 3 ½ seasons of Big 3 mania during which Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden gave Knicks fans a true foil to root against in Brooklyn.

All that blew up recently, as you may have heard or read, and as part of the trade that sent Irving to Dallas, Dinwiddie returned to the team with which he spent five seasons.

That included the much-admired 2018-19 group coached by Northport’s own Kenny Atkinson before Durant and Irving eschewed the Knicks, alit in Brooklyn and changed the world.

Now it is as if nothing happened, as if we lived a dream sequence in which rather than finding Bobby Ewing in the shower, it was Patrick Ewing who turned up there.

The previous time the teams met was Jan. 28 in Brooklyn, a game the Nets won, 122-115, behind 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds from Irving.

Before Monday night’s game, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was asked if he is glad to see the Nets’ big stars gone.

“They’re a terrific team,” he said. “They had very talented players and they have very talented players now.”

Sure, New York never stopped being a Knicks town while the Nets were pursuing a chemistry experiment that blew up in their faces. But the Nets were a huge national story, and they provided the kind of spice that has been lacking for most of the teams’ time together in the NBA.


Who are Knicks fans supposed to root against when the Nets visit? Ben Simmons? (Actually, he was the only Net Knicks fans bothered to boo Monday.)

Meanwhile, the Knicks have emerged as the more stable franchise, with the kind of rock in Jalen Brunson that none of the Big 3 became. (Brunson scored 40 points Monday.)

Even Julius Randle is back to being popular and productive!

Both teams likely will qualify for the postseason, but neither is a serious threat to win New York’s first pro basketball title since the 1976 Nets in the ABA.

That honor is far more likely to go to the Liberty and the WNBA superteam they have built — assuming they do not go the way of their Barclays Center counterparts.

Which of the NBA teams is closer? Difficult to say. The Knicks are more ready to win games now but haven’t landed the superstars they have sought, dating to LeBron James’ “Decision” in 2010 and before.

The Nets have some pretty good odds and ends, a lot of draft picks and a tall general manager with a cool accent. (I have no idea whether the Knicks’ Leon Rose has a cool accent; he’d first have to speak to reporters.)

So to review: meh.

There were some Nets replica jerseys in evidence at the Garden, but at least one was donned as a joke. Dean Mills of Northampton, England, was in town for his bachelor party, and his friends had him dress in a full Irving uniform, complete with shorts and headband.

“I was just getting some abuse on the elevator, so that was fun,” he said, his tone indicating it was not fun.

While trading Irving and (less so) Durant made sense, it did nothing for New York’s NBA title dreams — and it did nothing for this rivalry.

We can hope. Dinwiddie offered a glimmer when I asked him if games against the Knicks still feel special to him.

“This first one not as much, but it will get there,” he said. “It already was starting to come back a little bit. They were talking a little trash.

“So I look forward to playing them again, for sure.”


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.