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Mar 22, 2024 1:14 pm

Nets, Knicks face off with seasons going in opposite directions

jalen brunson

For the first time this season, the Brooklyn Nets will take the 6-mile trip across the East River to face their longtime rivals, the New York Knicks, in Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

For the free-falling Nets (26-44), the matchup will be more about pride than anything with just 12 games left in the season.

Following Thursday’s 115-108 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn has dropped five games in a row and seven of eight since March 5.

Since sitting at .500 on Dec. 26, the Nets are 11-29, leaving little chance for a postseason appearance, although they have yet to be eliminated. This would mark the first playoffs that the Nets won’t participate in since 2018.

Despite a brutal past few months, Brooklyn hasn’t stopped fighting, which was evident Thursday.

Although eventually falling to the Bucks, the Nets erased a 20-point deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead in Milwaukee.

“I just loved their joy and how they were competing,” Nets interim coach Kevin Ollie said. “They were playing for each other. It was fun basketball to watch. I just want those guys to continue to do that and results will follow. I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s what I believe.”

Mikal Bridges’ 24 points led Brooklyn, while Nicolas Claxton added 22 and Cam Thomas had 21.

On the season, Thomas leads the team with 21.5 points per game, followed by Bridges’ 20.5.

Ollie, who took over for the fired Jacque Vaughn during the All-Star break, has gone 5-11 in relief.

Brooklyn’s crosstown rivals have had much more to smile about this year, as the Knicks (41-28) have won four of their past five.

New York had strung together a four-game winning streak before a 113-100 defeat in Denver with the Nuggets on Thursday.

The 113 points allowed were the most by the stingy Knicks defense since the 116 scored by the Atlanta Hawks on March 5.

Under defensive-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau, New York’s 108 points per game allowed ranks second in the league, only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 106.7.

However, Thibodeau’s team saw the defending champions shoot 53.6 percent from the field, while Nikola Jokic tallied 30 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

“(Denver) is the defending champion, they’re playing great basketball,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the impact (Jokic) has had year after year and where they are, they play great basketball in large part because of the way he plays.”

Offensively, Jalen Brunson’s 26 led the way for the Knicks, while Isaiah Hartenstein put in 20.

Rebounding was an issue for New York, which was outrebounded 42-31.

“They’re obviously champions for a reason,” Thibodeau said. “I thought we fought hard. Our rebounding wasn’t good throughout the game. I thought offensively the way we started the game was really good. And it’s a two-point game with eight minutes to go in the fourth.”

Brunson leads the Knicks with 27.5 points per game on the season, followed by Julius Randle’s 24.

Dealing with a shoulder injury, Randle hasn’t played since Jan. 27.

–Field Level Media

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