Some say that the Nets and Knicks will face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals when Hell freezes over. It hasn’t iced up yet, but it must be quite chilly there. Both teams are in the NBA playoffs, which begin this weekend, and are a long way from New York City’s dream matchup. But it is a possibility, which coming into this season seemed unrealistic.
The Nets were expected to be competing for an NBA title, especially after the acquisition of James Harden. Not much was expected from the Knicks, who were in rebuild mode and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2013. But after earning a surprising 41-31 record, they are the No. 4 seed in the East going into the postseason.
The Brooklyn Nets, the No. 2 seed in the conference, were 48-24 during the regular season, posting a record of 28-8 at home and 20-16 away from the Barclays Center. They start the playoffs in Brooklyn on Saturday hosting the winner of the Boston Celtics-Washington Wizards play-in game that took place late Tuesday night in Boston. That team will be designated as the No. 7 seed. The Philadelphia 76ers are the No. 1 seed and the Milwaukee Bucks No. 3.
The Nets finally have a relatively healthy roster at the right time. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden have only played eight games together this season due to injuries and absences by Irving for personal reasons. “I think the goal for us was to try to be as healthy as possible by the end of the year,” said Steve Nash, the Nets’ first-year head coach.
Nash added he wanted to “keep everyone on the same page and excited about what we’re doing.” It may be a challenge. Irving, who has demonstrated a strong consciousness regarding various racial and social justice issues, expressed basketball is not his single priority after the Nets’ final regular season game this past Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a 123-109 win at the Barclays.
“I’m not going to lie to you guys, a lot of stuff is going on in this world, and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now,” Irving said. “There’s a lot of things going on overseas. All our people are still in bondage across the world, and there’s a lot of dehumanization going on.
“So I apologize if I’m not going to be focused on y’all’s questions. It’s just too much going on in the world for me to just be talking about basketball. I focus on this most of the time, 24-7, but it’s just too much going on in this world not to address.”
As for Durant, he is locked in and eyeing his third NBA title having won two and two Finals MVP awards in 2017 and 2018 with the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s a new season for us,” said Durant after registering 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds versus the Cavaliers.
“Whatever we did so far is out the window…We did some solid things throughout the regular season, but we just want to continue to keep getting better, but realize that the regular season is over. It’s a new vibe.”