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UPDATE: Nets look to sweep Knicks, tie all-time series Monday. James Harden back

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

After a sluggish performance in Chicago, resulting in their fourth loss in 24 games, it’s about all about the injury report as the Nets return to Brooklyn to face the rival Knicks.

While the Nets were losing to the Bulls in Chicago, 115-107, Kevin Durant and James Harden were back in Brooklyn working on their hamstrings. There was a possibility, indeed a serious hope, that the two would be on the court this evening. Nets get half their wish: Harden is back, Durant is still out.

Brooklyn, currently tied for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, has won both games vs their crosstown rivals this season, but has had a slim margin of victory over the Knicks, the bigger of the two only seven points. In that second game, three weeks ago, the outcome was decided on a controversial traveling call against the Knicks All-Star, Julius Randle who needed to be restrained after the final buzzer and left the court flipping a chair in frustration.

The rivalry matchup will look a little different than their last meeting. New York will see two new faces in the Nets lineup - LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin - but the Knicks don’t seem fazed by the Nets newest additions or the prospect of seeing the “Big Three” on the court.

In Randle and Reggie Bullock’s words, “we got a Big 5” and “we got a big 15.”

Injuries

As noted, Kevin Durant (left hamstring strain) is still out while James Harden (right hamstring tightness) returns after missing two games. Brooklyn contines to make “ measured decisions” as Steve Nash puts it. Nash has also said both players would be in uniform if this were the post-season. However, the Nets will be without three players besides KD. Blake Griffin (injury management), Tyler Johnson (right knee soreness) and Landry Shamet (right ankle sprain) are all out. The Nets later issued a medical update on Johnson saying rehab has begun on his knee but offering no return timetable.

For the Knicks, Mitchell Robinson is out following surgery for a fractured metatarsal on his right foot.

Where to follow the game

The game will be televised on the YES2 Network as well as NBA TV and MSG Network with the contest set to tip at 7:00 PM ET. For radio listeners, the game will be available on WFAN 101.9 FM radio.

The game

The Knicks enter Monday not only looking for bragging rights in the city but also getting a foot up in the race for a playoff spot, something only the most loyal Knick fans thought possible before the season. New York is 25-25, putting them in the seventh seed and the play-in tournament where the four teams between Nos. 7 and 10 will battle for the final two playoff spots. There’s only a five game difference between the fourth seed Hawks and the 10th seed Bulls.

New York has succeeded because of its defense. It boasts the fourth-ranked defensive rating in the NBA (107.6) and second in opponent effective field goal percentage - 51.1. But they aren’t in the top half when it comes to offense, holding the 21st spot in offensive rating at 109.0 to go along with being 22nd in field goal percentage (45.1). They also have a tendency to collapse late as they did against the Mavericks on Friday night before destroying the lowly Pistons on Saturday.

Beyond the numbers, there is the rivalry. If the Nets can win Monday night, they will tie the All-Time NBA series with the Knicks at 106 each. The two teams are already tied in the post-season 6-6. (The Nets had a 3-2 advantage over the Knicks in ABA-NBA exhibition games back in the 1970’s.)

Kyrie Irving, of course, knows all about the rivalry growing up a Nets fan in New Jersey during the Jason Kidd era when the Nets beat the Knicks like a rug. He understands the magnitude of games between what are now New York’s two teams.

“As a kid, obviously New Jersey vs. New York - that was a big thing whether the Knicks were at Continental Airlines Arena or New Jersey was at MSG. Now that it’s Brooklyn versus New York, kind of the whole entire area,” said Irving recently.

“A lot of people I see on Instagram and Twitter, media outlets - this whole big thing but as players, we feel it naturally but obviously being from here, it’s a little bit of a different sentiment. I got to go home and be around Knicks and Nets fans. It’s basketball. It’s competition,” Irving said following the Nets win back on March 15.

“It’s a world sport so it’s nothing but respect but obviously, you just want to come out here and have fun going against the New York Knicks. They’ve been playing well this season, a well-coached team, and appreciate the opportunity.”

Player to watch

Julius Randle, who was named an All-Star this season, leads the Knicks in scoring, rebounding and assists - 23.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. To complement his notable offensive play, Randle is also shooting 41.6 percent from deep and 46.6 percent from the field. He is, in short, the Knicks best player since Carmelo Anthony.

Randle - who has scored 30+ points and 10+ rebounds in both meetings between the two teams this season, will go up against a loaded Nets frontcourt that can play small or big. Randle is likely to be defended by a physical Blake Griffin, a versatile Jeff Green and may see minutes against Nicolas Claxton if the Nets look to go big and possibly pair their second-year rising talent with LaMarcus Aldridge.

Randle is still only 26 and the Knicks will face a big decision with him in the off-season. They have a team option on his near $20 million deal in 2021-22. Will they sign him to an extension —they haven’t yet— or trade him to bring in a bigger star?

RJ Barrett, who is also Steve Nash’s godson, is also someone to watch. He enters Monday’s rivalry game averaging 17.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest.

From the Vault

Probably no game exemplifies the misunderstood Nets-Knicks rivalry better than Hall of Famer Bernard King’s 60-[point performance against the Nets on Christmas Day 1984. It is part of Knicks lure, one of the all-time great individual performances. However, what Knick fans don’t often note (or know) is that the Nets won that game.

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