Monday night (8 p.m. ET) might actually provide the precipice of a legitimate New York City rivalry between its two basketball clubs, the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
For the first time in eight years, both teams are playing well and firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Nets are a half-game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in the East, fueled by their ‘Big 3’ of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving that has ushered title expectations throughout the streets of Brooklyn.
The Knicks are exceeding all expectations that many have placed on them for each of the last eight years: A bottom finish in the East.
Instead, head coach Tom Thibodeau has revamped a largely unassuming roster to have them over .500 (20-19) in March for the first time since 2013.
Julius Randle is an All-Star, RJ Barrett is showing signs of breaking out as a prominent, reliable scorer in the NBA, and rookie Immanuel Quickley could very well be the point guard of this franchise’s future.
But at the end of the day, the Knicks aren’t in the same stratosphere when it comes to the threat that the Nets possess — that’s not hyperbole or a jab. It’s just a fact. The Nets are automatically one of the very best teams in the NBA when they have Irving, Harden, and Durant healthy and on the floor at the same time.
Still, Monday night’s clash between the Knicks and Nets in Brooklyn carries the promise of a spark of a legitimate rivalry between these two teams. Not just sniveling between their fan bases or blogs — real intensity on the court.
“I think that obviously, the Knicks are playing great basketball together,” former Knicks big man now Nets center, DeAndre Jordan, said. “[Thibodeau] is doing a great job over there. We can’t get caught up in the New York rivalry thing. We’re just trying to come out there and win a basketball game against a tough opponent.
“We’re happy the game is at our place this time. We’re excited. It’s gonna be a tough fought game just like tonight was. It will be a grind-out game because we know how those guys play.”
What should help is that roughly 1,800 fans will be in attendance at Barclays Center to see the all-New-York bout, where plenty of Knicks fans are expected to show up.
“We’re playing well, the Knicks are playing well, so that gives [Knicks fans] obviously more of a reason to come,” Harden said. “But just the excitement and fans wanting to get into the arena to see some basketball; see their favorite player play is another reason.”