BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Two years ago on media day, Deron Williams grabbed a microphone during former Nets coach Avery Johnson’s initial press conference to the media.
“This is Deron Williams with the Deron Williams News,” Williams cracked as reporters giggled. “Can you tell me, who’s the best team in New York?”
It was a dig at the constant media coverage of the “Borough Battle,” a Nets-Knicks rivalry borne out of geographical proximity and little else. It gave then-coach Johnson the opportunity to respond with a standardized refrain, alleging that the Nets aren’t focused on the Knicks, they’re focused on being the best team in the NBA.
But today, with the seventh game in Brooklyn-Manhattan history on tap, nearly all of the Nets — even Williams — admit that these games mean more to them.
“These games, even if you don’t say they mean more, they mean a lot more,” Williams said about tonight’s contest, using “you” to refer to himself. “Just because of the rivalry that’s been formed. The fans definitely get up for the game, and we do too. It’s gonna be a fun game.”
The Brooklyn Nets are riding high: they’ve got an Eastern Conference-best 30-12 record in 2014, they’ve won a franchise record 14 straight games at home, and they’re racing up the playoff standings in an attempt to get home-court advantage.
But while the Nets turned their fortunes around in 2014, the Knicks have mostly stayed their problematic course: outside of an eight-game winning streak against mostly bad teams and the recent hire of Phil Jackson as team president, there’s not much hope to go around. A win against the Nets would both increase New York’s playoff chances, and give the Knicks and their fanbase a modicum of hope to rally around.
“We want to win,” guard Joe Johnson said flatly. “Let’s make no mistake about it. We’re going to do whatever we can to go in their building and walk out with a win. That’s just the way it is.”
So while a game against a 32-43 team normally wouldn’t register to the Nets beyond their own proclivities, Wednesday night is a bit different: they’ve split six games with evenly since the Nets moved to Brooklyn for the 2012-2013 season. The Knicks have a slight edge in points — 567-553 since “Day One” and 193-186 this year — but each team has won three games, making this, in effect, a borough Game 7.
“It’s definitely going to be heated,” guard Shaun Livingston added. “It’s going to be a fight. They have a lot at stake, and we’re still fighting. We just want to come out and continue to play good basketball. Obviously, the game is going to have a lot of hype. We don’t want to blow it out of proportion, but we know what it is.”
There was one exception to the rule in the locker room: Nets forward Paul Pierce, who’s made enough Knicks-defying shots to fill multiple careers, doubled down on his indifference.
“We’re worried about our team,” Pierce said. “The Knicks, they have their own business. We’re trying to win every game.”