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New-look Nets head across river to play reeling Knicks

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New York Knicks vs Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Well, that was refreshing. After 11 straight losses and a monumental trade, the Nets blew out the Kings by 24 Monday without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and either James Harden or Ben Simmons. Instead, it was the other acquisitions from the Harden-for-Simmons trade who provided the heroics. Seth Curry scored 23 and Andre Drummond finished one point short of a double-double while rendering Domantas Sabonis irrelevant with help from LaMarcus Aldridge who himself was coming back from an ankle sprain. All was good in NetsWorld, at least for the moment.

The opponent tonight will be the New York Knicks, who have lost 12 of their last 15 and fell to the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder Monday, a defeat so ignominious that rumors are now flying that Thibodeau. the toast of New York basketball only last season, could become the sixth head coach to exit in seven years. A loss to the Nets wouldn’t help, particularly at the vaunted Garden and on national TV (the first of five straight Knick games on ESPN or ABC!)

Where to follow the game

YES Network and ESPN on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30 p.m. ET.

Injuries

Joe Harris remains out and we await word on whether he’ll need a second — and presumably season-ending — surgery. Kevin Durant is out as well and Ben Simmons has begun his open-ended ramp-up. Kyrie Irving can’t play in New York, period. KD and Simmons will likely be on the bench, as they were vs. the Kings. Irving isn’t even allowed in the building because of NYC’s vaccine mandate. Everyone else is good to go.

There’s a bit of news on Irving’s status. On ESPN’s GetUp, NBA commissioner Adam Silver seemed to suggest a change might be coming...

R.J. Barrett (ankle) is out. More on that later. So are Derrick Rose (also ankle) and Nerlens Noel (foot).

The game

The Nets won the first game back on November 30 in a tight one, 112-110. With the victory, Brooklyn has won four straight against New York dating back to last season, and the Nets now have a 102-101 all-time lead in the head-to-head matchup with the Knicks dating back to 1976.

There were a lot of good feelings Monday after the Nets win over the Kings but skeptics and haters will say, hey, it was against the Kings, but Sacramento had won both games with Sabonis going into the game. Those same skeptics and haters will now look at the Knicks game in a similar vein. They are reeling with a capital R.

On Tuesday, Stefan Bondy wrote this about Thibs post-game press conference Monday night.

The dim felt symbolic.

As Tom Thibodeau spoke softly Monday night through one of his lowest moments as head coach at 4 Penn Plaza, the lights in the press conference room cut off.

For a couple seconds, darkness surrounded Thibodeau, and it was easy to envision a curtain falling on top of a coach who, during a final act, was trying to explain an inexplicable timeout gaffe.

“That was my fault,” Thibodeau said. “I screwed that up.”

Positively Shakespearean.

And that followed Thibs’ refusal to take responsibility for R.J. Barrett’s injury against Denver. With about 25 seconds remaining and Knicks trailing by 15 last Tuesday, Thibodeau left Barrett in the game, the only starter on either side still in the game. As fate would have it, budding Knicks star (and Steve Nash’s godson) stepped on Nuggets swingman Davon Reed’s foot and down he went. He’s now in a walking boot. Fans are not happy. Nor apparently is James Dolan. He hired former Timberwolves executive as a consultant.

New York is now two and a half games out of the play-in tournament, a big dropoff from last season when they were the fourth seed. There are myriad other issues as well. Immanuel Quickley seems to have lost confidence and (Thibs again) Cam Reddish acquired from Atlanta last month in return for a first rounder is sitting on the bench.

Still, a win over the Nets — “Big Three” or not — would be a big deal for the Knicks and Thibodeau’s future. If that’s going to happen, the Knicks will need big games from Julius Randle, Mitch Robinson and Evan Fournier, all of whom had nice games against the Thunder on Monday night. Fournier also seems to have potential as a Nets-killer. They’ll also have to play some defense. Surprisingly, the Knicks are still sixth in opponent shooting percentage (but dropping).

The game is also a chance for the Nets to end an eight-game road losing streak.

Player to watch: Julius Randle

After a disappointing start to the season, Randle has been hot, hot, hot of late. For the month of February, Randle is averaging 27.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists in 39 minutes per. He even had a triple-double in the Knicks OT loss to Oklahoma City Monday with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. That’s why the Knicks agreed to pay him $126 million in the off-season.

There are problems, though. His shooting splits are ugly despite the big numbers he put up this month: 45/26/78 and his body language hasn’t been great either. Nor has he recovered from his thumbs-down gesture a month ago. Fans seem perplexed by him. Ding Dong.

Who will get the job of guarding him? Kessler Edwards would seem the likely candidate to start with Bruce Brown getting minutes as well. Don’t be surprised if Nic Claxton also gets minutes guarding Randle.

But as his recent stretch of games proves, Randle can explode and take over a game. He will certainly be motivated by the national TV exposure. And no matter what the records show, Nets-Knicks is almost always a battle.

From the Vault

What’s the classic Nets-Knicks game? Probably the Christmas Day match-up in 1984. It’s often cited by Knick fans as one of the greatest games ever for a Knicks player. And of course they are right. And the best part? The Nets won that contest....

More reading: Posting and Toasting.