NEW YORK — It’s fair to say that no game this season will stir the passion of fans more than Thursday’s Heat-Cavs matchup in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). But around these parts, there certainly seems to be some acrimony developing between the two local squads, the Knicks and Nets.
When it comes to basketball rivalries, Knicks-Nets doesn’t quite match Celtics-Lakers or Spurs-Mavs. In the 36 years since the New Jersey joined the NBA in 1974, the Nets and Knicks have both finished above .500 in the same season just five times. And they’ve met only three times in the playoffs.
This season, the Nets are recovering from a 12-70 season, while the Knicks are trying to end the longest playoff drought in the Eastern Conference. At this point, the 9-9 Knicks have a slight edge over the 6-11 Nets, though New York has played one of the easiest schedules in the league and New Jersey has played one of the toughest.
The Nets are set to move to Brooklyn in two years and are presently in an arena, The Prudential Center in Newark, that’s much easier to get to from Manhattan than East Rutherford’s Izod Center. So they’re looking to take away some of the Knicks’ fan base, which is presumably for the taking with New York holding the league’s worst record over the last nine seasons.
The two teams meet for the first time this season tonight at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m., League Pass). This game, nor a few games in the standings, really mean much when it comes to the rivalry. Neither team, as they stand, is going to win the hearts of New Yorkers with a seventh or eighth place finish in the East.
But MSG, which televises Knicks games and is owned by the same people who own the team, promoted tonight’s broadcast with the following tease: “Hey Nets, you can walk like us, you can talk like us, but you ain’t never gonna be like us.”
Today, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov offered an appropriate response: “I don’t think we want to be like the Knicks. I think we’d more like to resemble the Lakers.”
To get to the point where either team can talk about contending for an NBA title, they need better players. So while current Knicks and Nets players and coaches worry about how to beat the other team tonight, their front offices focus on the guy who they believe can take them to the next level, when it comes to both wins and fan support. That guy is Carmelo Anthony. And at this point, his future is still very much in the air.
There are some local bragging rights involved in tonight’s game, but until either team takes a significant step forward in the Eastern Conference, neither truly has much to brag about.