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It’s time Nets and its fans thump their chests against Knicks in Brooklyn

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

One veteran has been giving out tickets to fans in effort to pack Barclays with Nets fans. Another younger player asks whether the place is going to get filled out. After all, the Nets were two games above .500 and momentum was building when the question was brought up.

My answer was simple: Once the winning starts and something is established, fans will start showing up. This player wasn’t worried, he was antsy. Antsy because he knows how great Brooklyn can be if fans show up.

I bring this up because the Brooklyn Nets enter Friday’s home game against the New York Knicks as the hottest team in the NBA an 18-5 record since December 6. The Knicks are on the opposite end of that discussion with a 2-18 record during that span. The teams were both 8-18 at the time their fortunes diverged.

The Nets are the talk of the NBA and Keith Smith of Yahoo summed it up perfectly after Wednesday’s game...

But will Barclays Center be lit up in blue and orange or will the arena be filled with black and white Friday? It’s been an issue in the past and not just with the Knicks, but other teams with big fanbases, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Heat. Opposing teams’ fans take over.

Kenny Atkinson, a native of New York, understands how tough a New York fanbase can be if the team isn’t winning. He explains how he’s beginning to feel a “different vibe” since the winning. That being said, he knows what it feels like to sometimes be a stranger in your own home.

“Yes I do [feel the crowd’s buzz],” said Atkinson recently. “That’s an honest feeling, a different vibe. Maybe these guys that have been here a little longer can get a better feel for that, but from my perspective I feel the momentum in the building.

“We feel confident here because of that and listen, I think we have a chip on our shoulder, we don’t love when we play the Celtics or whoever. Do we see a lot of green? We want to see more Nets’ colors, but we have to earn that. We have a long way to get it where we want it. But I do feel like the momentum is flowing in the right direction in terms of our crowd.”

Confident at home? Indeed. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 at Barclays.

The Nets have a chip on their shoulder. They’ve always been the “little brother” to the Knicks — the same way the Mets are to the Yankees; the Jets are to the Giants; the Islanders to the Rangers.

Here’s the thing: All those little brother teams have a championship to their name. The Nets have two championships, but they came while they played in Long Island and in the ABA. It only sorta counts in the NBA records.

They moved to New Jersey after Long Island and failed to win there, getting close in 2002 and 2003.

Technically, the Brooklyn move — while in a big market — is still a relatively new thing; the sparkly new toy that’s out of its wrapper but all its fun features still unused. They just haven’t won enough to win over fans. Yet.

But that’s beginning to change. The rank incompetence of the Knicks over the past seven years has given Brooklyn several opportunities to strike the market while hot, but they’ve failed to do so... until now.

“I’ll tell you this, I think our fans were fantastic our first two seasons here despite [us] not winning a ton of games,” Atkinson added. “I feel like they’re really happy that it’s starting to convert into some wins and they kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The light is approaching. In other words, it’s new and actually a big surprise to everybody watching, including Atkinson.

“I think our players want it more and I think our fans will get to the point where they want it more,” said Atkinson. “It’s a little earlier than I anticipated quite honestly, but we’ll take it and I think it’s flowing in the right direction.”

“Earlier than I anticipated.”

This is coming from an analytically-driven organization who evaluate these things before the seasons — their odds, chances, etc. So what does it say about the Nets? Even they’re shocked, as the fans might be.

Most expected improvement, but at this rate? Two games away from matching last year’s win total in January? The sixth seed in the East?

No way.

Reality is: Yes way. It’s happening and it’s happening fast, and these guys want to see Barclays filled from top to bottom with Brooklyn fans. They’re taking steps in the right direction.

Died-in-the-wool fans can’t get enough of the Nets. People want more coverage because everybody in America wants to know: What the heck is going on in Brooklyn? The story is due to be told and tickets in Brooklyn are expected to be sold.

So, as the Knicks packed out the Garden for a meaningless game with James Harden in town, the Nets played a playoff-implicated game against the Orlando Magic. With the home team just barely pulling away in the end, a familiar chant started.

Then it started to spread more.

... And more. As quick as a wildfire.

The beauty in it: It happened organically, the same way this team was built.

“For sure, the crowd was loud again,” D’Angelo Russell said after the Nets improved to 26-23 on the season. “We heard them. We’re gonna need those guys to keep bringing it every night.”

He was immediately asked if there was anything he’d like to say to Nets fans before the Knicks come across the river on Friday.

“Nope.”

Don’t get me wrong. The numbers are still an issue even if the enthusiasm isn’t. As Peter Botte reported in the Post, the Nets still have sold out only three games this season (against marquee draws the Warriors, Knicks and Lakers), and Wednesday’s announced crowd of 13,185 actually represented their lowest attendance figure since December 5, just before the great run started. That’s more than 4,500 empty seats.

It’s inevitable that Barclays will be filled with blue and orange. It’s just the way it goes. New York fans wear their colors proud through good and bad times ... and truth be told, Nets tickets are a LOT cheaper than Knick tickets. Credit to them. But it’s time Brooklyn Nets fans show who’s house it really is, who runs the city at the moment starting on Friday.

Because these aren’t your same old Nets.