NEW YORK — Geographically Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center are separated by about a 20-minute subway ride or approximately a six-mile walk if you are feeling adventurous.
As for the teams that play 41 home games a year in those buildings, the distance is significantly larger. At least that’s the biggest perception to emerge from their first meeting of this season which also was another blowout, 110-99, in favor of the Nets and in reality it was not even that close.
The rivalry between the Nets and Knicks has not quite taken shape in the last two years, mostly because of the status of the teams or the large margin of victories. When the teams opened the season series last year, they had a combined eight wins a month into the season and the Knicks won by 30.
This time both teams are trying out new offensive systems and so far the results indicate a talent gap between the two squads. Rarely have the Nets’ three biggest contracts played well on the same night due to inconsistencies or mostly injuries but Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson provided a glimpse of that potential when working under the caveat ‘when healthy’.
Net fans know they can depend on Johnson. What they don’t know is if they will consistently see the bounce of Williams slashing through defenses to the point where opponents will say “he did whatever he wanted”.
But six months after a missing poster was placed on a lamppost on Atlantic Avenue before a playoff game and two ankle surgeries later, the version of Williams the Nets thought they were getting may have finally appeared.
The Nets were pegged for seventh or eighth in an improving Eastern Conference due to the question marks about that exact issue. And while that might come into play at some point it has not in the opening two weeks.
The Knicks were also pegged around the same place as the Nets as they were figuring out how to play in the triangle offense under the regime of Derek Fisher on the sidelines and Phil Jackson in the front office. Those two combined for 16 championship rings with that offense, though while surrounded by the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Six games in, Fisher and Jackson are learning that there is not anyone beyond Carmelo Anthony approaching that kind of talent. That means as Carmelo goes so do the Knicks, as opposing defenses are forcing him into taking a high volume of tough shots and restricting his movements within the framework of the offense.
When that happens, and it has happened a lot the last three games, Anthony has nights like 8-for-23 or 5-for-20 and with that any chances fade away for the Knicks. It is acknowledged that picking up the triangle principles will be a process and that it takes time but it’s question Knick fans want answered in the form of results and not in the comments like “I’m still figuring it out”.
Like the kind of results the Nets are getting with the motion offense of Lionel Hollins. The Nets have had their shaky moments (season opener in Boston, first and fourth quarter against Minnesota) but based on what unfolded against a Knicks defense that grew non-existent when the shots did not fall, things will be better than last season when they lost 21 of their first 31 under a novice coach in Jason Kidd.
This time they have a tough-minded and tested coach in Hollins and you can see the imprint defensively. Don’t let the 99 points allowed fool you, the Nets were effective defensively against the Knicks forcing them into 28 percent shooting on mid-range shots between 10 and 20 feet for example.
And offensively they were equally as good. While Williams had 29 points, it only came on 15 shots because he reached the foul line 10 times and his efficiency allowed four players to reach double figures, which is something the Nets have had in every game.
“We have so many scorers, so many options, we don’t wanna just iso one guy,” Lopez said. “If you look at the stat line we had a number of guys score the ball.”
The disclaimer with the Nets are the opponents. The only opponent that made the playoffs last season was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are a shell of themselves with injuries. The gauntlet will be raised next week with visits to Phoenix, Golden State, and Portland before a home game with Miami.
Even with the results of five games against mediocre or below average opponents, the outlook appears rosier for the Nets and the wait for results continues for the Knicks.
Does this mean the Nets will be winning the Atlantic Division or the Knicks will be on a collision course with 25 wins? Not necessarily, but first impressions create perceptions for better or worse and that is what unfolded Friday night in Brooklyn.