“The only thing that is an hour from 42nd Street is 43rd Street…”- Michael Caine, “The Holcroft Covenant” (1985)

Happy New Year to fans of the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets. Having made upgrades in personnel, with more coming, both are poised to be improved, with the promise of a much stronger rivalry when the Nets move to Brooklyn in September 2012.

In the best of all possible worlds, it’s fitting that our local pro hoops favorites began 2011-12 play during the Christmas season. But first, what about the effect of the National Basketball Association’s 159-day player lockout? Three operative questions remain:

1. Will there be a backlash from long-suffering fans in the aftermath of the stupid stalemate that scuttled team training camps, the entire preseason schedule and 16 regular season games?

2. With rampant unemployment, will average Americans pay exorbitant prices to watch Black millionaire players working for white billionaire owners?

3. Will clueless players and fatcat owners finally realize their enterprise is simply a kids’ game that a whole lot of people don’t care about? Only time will tell.

Here’s a brief look at the new Knicks and the potentially tough, albeit snake-bit Nets, as they begin the new season. Each team made nice roster upgrades and, if the Nets land superstar center Dwight Howard in-season, both should easily make the playoffs.

First, the Knicks. Counting the first round of the 2010-11 playoffs, when they were swept in four straight by the Boston Celtics, they ended the season on a six-game losing streak. They were also 4-18 after trading with the Denver Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks last made the playoffs in 2003, when they were swept 4-0 by the Nets in the first round. At 42-40 last year, they finally again qualified for the post-season, but now have lost 10 straight playoff games.

The Knicks were relatively healthy last year-including in the playoffs-and were 0-8 against the veteran Celtics before eking out a 106-104 win at home on Christmas Day to open the current campaign. Although Boston was shorthanded without the injured Paul Pierce, their leading scorer, the Knicks’ optimism prevails, as well it should.

Their dynamic duo of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire became the three-pronged “Broadway Bigs” when they obtained Tyson Chandler, a defense-minded 7-foot-1 center from the champion Dallas Mavericks. Now boasting one of the NBA’s best front lines, the Knicks, barring injury, are a legitimate contender for the Eastern Conference title.

On paper, the team’s biggest concern is a shaky back court, with injury-prone Toney Douglas, 33-year-old Mike Bibby and second year-man Landry Fields, who flamed out last year after a strong early season. But they added promising rookie Iman Shumpert and 32-year-old ex-All-Star Baron Davis. The latter is rehabbing a bulging disc condition in his back and is slated to be the starting point guard when fully healthy.

Now the Nets. Again bit by the injury bug, they lost 7-foot center Brook Lopez to a stress fracture in his foot in this year’s final preseason game. Decimated by injuries in 2010-11, they bombed out at 24-58, following 12-70. They last made the playoffs in 2006-for the sixth straight year-going to the NBA Finals in 2001 and 2002.

For months last season, the Nets were in a state of flux as players were distracted by constant Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. As the season progressed, the injury-plagued team often played minus four starters and suited up eight men instead of the normal 12.

Buoyed by Brooklyn and Mikhail Prokhorov, the richest owner in sports and a candidate for president of Russia, the youthful Nets are intent on acquiring the awesome 7-foot Howard from the Orlando Magic. The NBA’s best center, he has expressed a strong desire to join superstar point guard Deron Williams. Success means the sky is the limit.

If Lopez is back and playing well by the March 15 deadline and traded for Howard, the playoffs are a lock. With no trade, Lopez’ injury may be a blessing in disguise, since Howard is determined to leave. The Nets could sign him as a free agent in the summer and enter Brooklyn with a scary front line of Howard, Lopez and Kris Humphries.

Ironically, owing to Humphries’ high-profile, embarrassing 72-day marriage to Kim Kardashian, his presence looks to attract much bigger crowds to Nets games on the road. It also could mean unprecedented national TV exposure for the team.

The Nets’ starters are guards Williams and Anthony Morrow or new arrival DeShawn Stevenson; 6-foot-11 center Mehmet Okur, acquired to fill in for Lopez, and forwards Humphries and Damion James. A Howard trade may bring 6-foot-10 forward Hedo Turkoglu, while 6-foot-9 free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko-a Prokhorov pal-is on their radar.

At this writing, the Nets,with four players named Williams, open on the road against the Washington Wizards followed at home against the Atlanta Hawks. Along with Deron, there’s Shawne, Shelden and rookie Jordan. Via addition by subtraction, they dumped last year’s flop-forward Travis Outlaw-and mediocre guard Stephen Graham.

So, with the ill-advised lockout of players in the rearview mirror, pro hoops fans hereabouts, for the first time in a number of years, have reason to be optimistic about both of our teams to start a new season. Better late than never.

Finally, wouldn’t it be great for the Knicks and Nets to again meet in the NBA post-season playoffs? New York vs. New Jersey. We can dream, can’t we? Meanwhile, Happy New Year to both.