The Nets are aware of how well the Knicks are playing, and excited to finally host their rivals in front of fans at Barclays Center on Monday.
But they’re not looking to take New York; they’re looking to take the NBA.
“Obviously the Knicks are playing great basketball together. Julius Randle is an All-Star for those guys. [Tom Thibodeau] is doing a great job over there,” DeAndre Jordan said. “[But] 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 going to be a tough-fought game, just like [Saturday] was. It will be a grind-out game because we know how those guys play.”
Jordan has experienced the rivalry from both sides, having spent the latter half of 2018-19 with the Knicks. Once thought to be a drawing card who might help lure longtime friend Kevin Durant to the Garden, instead he, Durant and Kyrie Irving all joined up in picking Brooklyn in June 2019.
Up until that point, the Nets had always been fighting an uphill battle for popularity in New York, always clawing for attention against their more popular rival. When previous team owner Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, he immediately vowed to “turn Knick fans into Nets fans.”
It’s a fool’s errand.
Yes, the Nets’ ratings on YES Network have outpaced the Knicks on MSG since the James Harden trade and they went into the All-Star break second in league-wide merchandise sales — their best ranking ever. But the Nets are more of a national sports story while the Knicks are a local cultural institution.
And the Nets are finally fine with that. They’re no longer chasing the Knicks, and have reset the bar to a more appropriate height. Brooklyn changed the focus from attention to achievement, from popularity to production.
“We don’t set the takeover of New York as our goal,” Prokhorov told The Post after their transformative free agency. “We’re about steadily developing a team that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, will get us a championship.”
Prokhorov sold the team to Joe Tsai, but the championship goal remains. And it’s more reachable now after the Jan. 13 trade for Harden.
With the deal agreed upon just hours before Brooklyn played the Knicks at the Garden, he missed that tilt. Now he’s looking forward to not only getting a taste of the rivalry, but doing it in front of the Nets fans he cited as a reason for wanting to come to Brooklyn.
“Especially with the pandemic and everything we’re going through right now and fans aren’t able to come into arenas, I saw even more excitement when we finally opened up and they were able to come and see actual live basketball,” Harden said. “Obviously we’re playing well, the Knicks are playing well, so that gives them obviously more of a reason to come. But just the excitement and fans wanting to get into the arena to see some basketball, see their favorite player play is another reason. I heard the crowd [Saturday]; it was exciting. I’m anxious and can’t wait until we’re able to let more fans in. I can’t wait for that day.”
Limited to 10 percent capacity by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Barclays Center has been running even less. The Nets let in just 1,364 Saturday against Detroit. But after playing to an empty Garden in that Jan. 13 clash, Landry Shamet is looking forward to any home fans in the rematch.
“Yeah, it’s going to be fun,” Shamet said. “My first [game], we played them at MSG, but I don’t think there were any fans there — definitely weren’t, actually. So it’ll be cool, my first experience with fans; get a feel for the kind of rivalry and how the fans feel about it and what it feels like to have some different energy in the building. So I’m excited.”
But still with an eye on the bigger prize, claiming not the city but the league.