Rising Knicks square off with sinking Nets
The Brooklyn Nets' ascent into an NBA title contender included a multi-season stretch in which they dominated their nearest rival.
For the emerging New York Knicks, there may be no better time than now to begin authoring a similar script.
The Knicks will look to continue their surge and create more distance between themselves and the Nets on Wednesday night when they host Brooklyn in the final regular-season game between the clubs.
The Knicks earned their sixth straight victory Monday when they rolled past the visiting Boston Celtics 109-94.
The Nets will conclude a back-to-back set after they fell to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks 118-104 on Tuesday night.
The Monday win closed a hot February for the Knicks, who vaulted past the Nets into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn, occupying the final guaranteed playoff spot, is one game behind New York and 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-place Miami Heat.
The Knicks finished 9-2 last month, falling only to the Los Angeles Clippers (134-128 in overtime) on Feb. 4 and to the host Philadelphia 76ers (119-108) six days later.
New York's winning streak has been constructed entirely against teams that will enter Wednesday in a playoff or play-in tournament spot -- including the Nets, whose nine-game winning streak in the Big Apple rivalry ended with a 124-106 road loss on Feb. 13.
"We want to keep pushing," Knicks guard Josh Hart said Monday night. "We don't want to make the playoffs -- we want to make a run in the playoffs. I think that's the biggest thing, and I think we have the capability to do that."
The Nets' capabilities of mounting a championship run have disappeared over the past seven weeks. Since climbing a season-high 14 games over .500 on Jan. 8, Brooklyn has gone 7-14 while completing the dismantling of its potential super-team by trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
The loss to Milwaukee provided multiple reminders of what might have been for the Nets, who fell to the eventual NBA champion Bucks in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2021. Durant forced overtime in Game 7 by hitting a game-tying jumper with his foot on the 3-point arc.
On Tuesday, a 10-0 run by Mikal Bridges -- one of four starters in the Brooklyn lineup acquired in the blockbuster Irving and Durant trades -- gave the Nets a 76-66 lead with a little under seven minutes left in the third quarter.
However, the Bucks' big three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton combined to score 19 points in a period-ending 25-9 run. Milwaukee maintained a double-digit lead for the final 8:56 on its way to its 15th straight win.
Bridges said, according to the New York Post, "We weren't in our shifts, not getting back as hard. And then Giannis got going, got to the line, got the and-ones and dunking and got them going. So we just got to get back, have that mindset coming out. ... They dominated the second half, but it started with us in that third."
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn added, "Our approach at the beginning of the game was really good -- we gave ourselves a chance at halftime. We've got to be able to sustain it."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2023