The Nets half season in Brooklyn has given New York City basketball fans something 30 years in the swamps of Jersey could not: a true rivalry.
And now, Brooklynites with a teetering hardwood allegiance have a clear choice. The hometown Nets are a team the borough can be proud to support.s
Of the four games split by Manhattan and Brooklyn, two were decided by three points and another went into overtime. As tight as the games have been, the aftermath of the Nets’ Martin Luther King Day squeaker should leave backcourt enthusiasts with enduring and compelling arguments for why Brooklyn is the superior squad:
1) Assists. The Nets have struggled this season with too many isolation sets, forgoing team basketball for one-on-one battles. But Brooklyn’s tendency toward isolation has nothing on Manhattan’s go-it-alone brand of ball. In both of the Nets wins, they out-assisted the Knicks 23–14. Lest you say the absence of injured Knicks point guard Raymond Felton impacted the most recent matchup, consider that Ray averaged just 5.3 assists in the first three contests. By contrast, Nets ball-wizard Deron Williams spread the rock to the tune of 11.5 dimes a game.
2) Stability. Anyone jumping on the Brooklyn Bandwagon for the long haul can take comfort that Brooklyn’s backcourt is under lock and key. Both D-Will and shooter Joe Johnson are signed through the 2015–2016 season. The Knicks have Felton and Jason Kidd signed through 2014–2015, at which point Kidd will be a staggering 42 years old. But the future of shooting guard J.R. Smith, the Knicks’ most pleasant surprise of this season, is unknown. Smith signed a one-year deal before the season, with an option for next year. The way he’s played, it’s not hard to see him looking to make more bank elsewhere.
3) Growth. The storylines surrounding the Nets this year have revealed a team finding its identity on the floor, just as it is adjusting to a new arena, uniforms, and fanbase. D-Will complained about the lack of an offensive system, coach Avery Johnson was fired amid a losing skid. Since then, we’ve seen a team — specifically the back court of Williams and Johnson — showing what it can do when it begins to feel comfortable playing together. The Knicks began the season with remarkable cohesion, likely due to a veteran-heavy lineup. The Nets’ recent surge and Knicks’ regression show Brooklyn is the team with room to grow.
For many died-in-the-wool Manhattan basketball fans, it’s probably too late to save you. You will continue to hang on James Dolan’s every whim, and this season will be seen as vindication for sticking it out. But for the rest of us, there’s a lot to look forward to in Brooklyn. And if that includes meeting the Knicks in the playoffs later this year, that’s a challenge we’ll happily accept.
Matt Spolar is a nearly 6-foot-1 journalist with a middling high school basketball career who is sure the Nets win thanks to team’s top-tier guards.