COMMENTARY | Maybe it's something with New York teams ending in the letters "ets" that induces hasty and unjustified arrogance (even though the struggling New York Mets have been wise enough to avoid baseless, premature claims about taking New York City over from the far more accomplished New York Yankees).
The Little Brother Complexes of the Jets and Nets
But, just as the New York Jets couldn't walk the talk that they threw in the New York Giants' direction, the Brooklyn Nets failed to heed that same lesson when it came to their own crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks.
As a result, like the misguided Jets, the Nets are now appearing a bit foolish after not yet being able to back up some big words.
Almost two years ago, head coach Rex Ryan continued his earlier boasting when he presumptuously assumed that his Jets would be the best NFL team in New York for a decade to come. Yet, eight months later, the Jets lost a key Week 16 game to their MetLife Stadium co-tenants. The results of that contest were far-reaching, as the game sparked an unlikely run to the Giants' fourth Super Bowl title and simultaneously sent the Jets into a tailspin from which they have yet to recover.
The summer before Ryan's imprudent comments, the Nets' new leadership made an audacious statement with a giant mural painted just steps away from the Knicks' home at Madison Square Garden, featuring hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and multi-billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov brazenly declaring that they were "the blueprint for greatness."
The Knicks Soundly Answer the Nets' Taunts With a Long-Awaited Division Title
Three NBA seasons and one major address change later, Brooklyn's version of the Nets are no closer than the New Jersey Nets were to fulfilling Prokhorov's Ryan-like declaration that his latest acquisition at the time would steal fans from the Knicks and quickly start to win New York City's newly created basketball turf war.
Simply by moving across the state border and making even more important moves in upgrading their roster to that of a playoff-caliber team, Brooklyn instantly created a city rivalry with New York that previously barely existed. And, it still remains to be seen which team will go further in this year's NBA playoffs.
For now, though, the Nets will have to wait a while before overtaking the Knicks as the city's team, in the wake the New York's season-high 13-game winning streak (as of April 9) carrying the Knicks to their first division title in 19 seasons.
That realization was in serious doubt, however, prior to New York peaking at just the right time.
The Knicks matched a season-high four-game losing streak with a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 17. At that point, New York was 38-26, had lost 11 of 18 games, and was battling through a series of key injuries. Brooklyn, meanwhile, was right on the Knicks' heels at 38-28 and just a game back of New York for the division lead less than three months after firing head coach Avery Johnson.
The Nets, at that time, were about to embark on what would become a successful eight-game, 17-day excursion necessitated by a circus taking up space at their brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. When they finally came back home, they did so with a solid 5-3 record, while ending the long trip with a franchise record for road victories in a season.
Despite that good stretch, though, the Nets actually lost considerable ground on the exceedingly hot Knicks, who successfully accomplished their two biggest regular-season goals of ending the Boston Celtics' five-year reign as Atlantic Division kings and securing their first 50-win season in 13 years (which also marks the same length of time since New York's last playoff series victory).
Each Team Is in the Playoffs, but the Knicks Are Poised to Go Much Farther
Setting their sights even higher, the Knicks are in great shape to nail down the two-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which could position them very well for a potential showdown in the Eastern Finals against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, which lost three of four regular-season games to New York this year.
At the same time, the Nets might have a lot of trouble just getting out of the first round, especially if they end up in difficult postseason matchup as a four-seed with the Chicago Bulls, who seem headed for the five-seed in the East.
In years to come, the better but aging Knicks might eventually be chasing the Nets in the Atlantic Division. For now, however, the basketball battle of the boroughs remains centered in Manhattan no matter how much the Nets have tried to hurriedly shift that focus to Brooklyn.
Jonathan Wagner is a New York Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day and a weekly featured guest discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show (powered by Sportsideo). Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
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