Nets and Knicks enter first showdown in desperation mode
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
The Knicks and Nets, vaunted as Atlantic Division frontrunners and Eastern Conference contenders entering this NBA season, instead find themselves on the brink of internal collapse entering Thursday night's initial East River Rivalry showdown at the Barclays Center.
This was supposed to be the night the teams took their first swipe at one another to determine exactly whom would be the best team in the city, the top club in the Atlantic and the premiere threat to end Miami's reign as three-time Eastern Conference champions.
Now, it's simply a contest that will guarantee one of them a victory.
That, in and of itself, is certainly nothing to sneeze at with the Knicks having dropped nine straight games.
The Nets, losers of all but five of their first 18 contests, are coming off an embarrassing fifth straight home defeat Tuesday night during which they were roundly booed at every available opportunity by a frustrated fan base.
Neophyte Nets head coach Jason Kidd, who spent Tuesday night's pregame press conference explaining why he had decided to "re-assign" top assistant Lawrence Frank, summed up the first of four regular-season meetings between our city's NBA teams best following his team's shameful showing in a 111-87 loss to visiting Denver.
"It's a rivalry, but both teams stink right now," Kidd admitted, just hours after he made Frank, his former head coach during his days as a New Jersey Net point guard, the highest-paid non-participating assistant coach in NBA history at $1 million per over the next six years.
With Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko still injured, Kevin Garnett struggling to find his niche and a supporting cast forced to play starters' minutes against other teams' starters, Kidd and the Nets will need more than a re-shuffling of assistants to re-establish themselves as a team worth rooting for.
The 17,732 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues made that clear Tuesday night, eschewing their normal "Brook-lyn!" chant for the traditional Bronx cheers that accompany hard-to-watch basketball.
It's difficult to say the Nets didn't deserve it after suffering another epic third-quarter collapse and being out-rebounded by a mind-boggling 56 to 37.
“You're talking about a four-point game, with eight minutes or so [left in the third quarter], that turns into a 20-4 run [for Denver]," Kidd lamented in the aftermath of his 12th loss in 15 games since sitting out a pair to start the campaign following his well-chronicled suspension for a DUI incident the summer before last.
"Guys are starting to look like they had in games where we've let go of the rope,” Kidd added.
That "rope" will take on the form of a noose if Kidd and the Nets don't right themselves soon and begin to resemble the team that won 49 games, including a franchise-record 23 on the road, during their inaugural campaign here in our fair borough.
All of a sudden, Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo are starting to look like Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson to the Nets' disgruntled followers.
On the other side of the East River, the Knicks will show up at Barclays with three victories in 16 games, and without a single win since a Nov. 13 triumph in Atlanta.
Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony and his teammates have also lost the home crowd, dropping seven in a row at the renovated Madison Square Garden since a season-opening 90-83 win over Milwaukee.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson, coming off a 54-win campaign and an Atlantic Division title, is also on the hot seat for failing to get his team to respond to his pleas for a full 48-minute effort.
''Nine straight, eight straight, whatever we lost, we just can't seem to get it together,'' Anthony said following Sunday night's 103-99 home defeat to New Orleans, which marked New York's latest late-game meltdown.
''Can't seem to figure it out, but we have to,” Anthony insisted. “We don't have no choice but to figure this out.''
Of course, the bright side -- if there is one during this dismal NYC hoops season -- is that although both teams appear to be buried, neither is even close to dead in the Atlantic race.
The Nets are only two games behind first-place Boston, while the Knicks sit three games back.
And we're guaranteed that one of them will emerge victorious Thursday night.
That’s something we haven’t been able to bank on in this town since the season started.
Nothing but Net: These teams split four meetings last season, with Kidd deciding the most memorable game here with a game-winning 3-pointer on Dec. 11, 2012 for the visiting Knicks. “I hate him,” Williams playfully jabbed regarding Kidd following the painful defeat, which featured a 45-point effort from Anthony. … Frank, the winningest head coach in Nets history, will now be relegated to writing daily reports on the team, without participating in practice or sitting on the bench during games. Kidd insisted that the move was solely his decision and cited a “difference in philosophy” when pushed on the matter. … G Joe Johnson scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting against the Nuggets, and continues to be one of the most consistent performers for the undermanned Nets. … After 18 games last season, the Nets were 11-7 under Johnson. The Knicks were 12-4 in their first 16 games last season.