Playoff situations, not rivalry, will be the motivation for Nets, Knicks

The Nets and Knicks don’t seem to have any added incentive in their cross-river rivalry. Your difficult table situation will be motivation enough on Sunday.

It’s easy to see how one team – or both – could be floored for the nationally televised game at the Barclays Center (1 p.m., ABC). The Knicks are on the final leg of a grueling seven-game road trip. the Nets will have an emotional victory in Philadelphiaafter confronting ex-teammate James Harden and fan hatred new Net Ben Simmons.

But the desperate positions of the two teams in the play-in race (the Nets started eighth in the East on Saturday, the Knicks 12th with 15 games remainingincluding Sunday) means nobody can afford a hangover.

“The urgency is there’s 15 games,” said Nets guard Patty Mills. “We’ve just played three games with almost all of our characters. There’s enough reason for us to feel the urgency to string these games together.

“Like I said, the holy grail is a championship and time is not on our side, but we have a tremendous opportunity to continue to improve here with these 15 games ahead. Those three games were great, now we’re coming home – where we weren’t great at home all year – to build on that. So it helps [to play a rival]? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s a factor.”

Julius Randle and Kevin Durant
Julius Randle and Kevin Durant
Getty Images (2)

The Nets were 2 1/2 games behind Toronto until Saturday night’s Raptors game in Denver and 1 1/2 leads over No. 9 Charlotte and No. 10 Atlanta.

The Knicks’ six-game trek across all four time zones is over, but technically their road games aren’t.

When the Knicks (28-39) visit the Nets, they’re playing their seventh straight game outside of the Garden, but it’s a “road game” in name only.

As usual, there will be plenty of Knicks fans at the Barclays Center. James Dolan’s franchise still dominates the market.

But that’s no guarantee of dominating the game. The Knicks flew back from Memphis, landing in the early hours of Saturday and losing an hour to the time change before the Brooklyn matinee.

The Nets are coming from an evisceration of the 76s behind Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant but won’t have Irving because he won’t be vaccinated. Simmons won’t play either because the newcomer isn’t ready to compete just yet.

The Knicks are a respectable 3-3 on the trip, but with 15 games remaining, there’s no room for error. The three-game winning streak could have been a season-high four if they had simply defended a 15-point lead in the third quarter on Friday in Memphis instead of being chased out of the building by Ja Morant’s blue ribbon. Instead, the Knicks fell 4 1/2 games out of play-in behind the Hornets and Hawks.

“We’re playing against the top of the league,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau of their road trip. “We do a lot of good things and we learn a lot. We have to keep improving. And so the next challenge in Brooklyn.

“And they make a huge profit. And they sit on a few days rest. … We have to be ready every night in this league. That’s why toughness is so important.”

Asked if he saw the Nets slaughter the Sixers on Thursday, Thibodeau said: “I saw a little bit of that. Any team with that much talent knows how good they are. You look at this game and you look at the three guys that Philly has and the guys that Brooklyn has, that’s high end. That is hard.”

RJ Barrett lamented the Knicks’ inability to finish games in which they had big leads. That cost her in Memphis and in her last meeting with the Nets.

“We had a good road trip,” said Barrett. “I have the feeling that we played very well, even against the top teams. We gave them a run for their money just while learning how to complete games. That’s all we’re going to try.”

They’ll hope to do better than their Feb. 16 game against the Nets, when they blew a 28-point lead at the Garden. Rookie Cam Thomas had 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead a Nets win and is eyeing another shot at his rivals.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Thomas told the Post. Playoff situations, not rivalry, will be the motivation for Nets, Knicks


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