UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Brooklyn Nets have big and bold dreams of conquering the Big Apple by knocking the big, bad New York Knicks from the apple of the Apple's collective eyes. Judging from a sold-out Nassau Coliseum, the Nets can ball with the Knicks, even outlast them, but the Grapple for the Apple? Well, that's going to take some time.
Knicks Nation dominated the Brooklynites in terms of fandom, paraphernalia and flat-out noise in what was billed as a Nets home game. The appetizer for the November 1 opener, when the Nets will be banking on a sea of hip black and white to drown the old-school orange and blue, drew 15,957 to the soon-to-be former home of the New York Islanders for a preseason contest with the intensity of a regular-season game.
[Related: Recap of Knicks' OT victory]
The fun begins for real next Thursday and the expectation is that with the Nets now Brooklyn's team, the scale of noise will tip towards the Nets in lieu of the 90-10 percentage Nets players have tolerated for too long.
"I hope so, I think it should," Deron Williams deadpanned. "A little more Knicks fans than Nets fans even though it was our home game, but that's to be expected on Long Island, probably. But I thought the crowd was great. I thought we had a lot of fans who were cheering just as loud as Knicks fans at times."
Never mind beating the Knicks in a popularity contest. There is much work to do as Brooklyn dropped a 97-95 in overtime. Although head coach Avery Johnson saw improvement, the defense still remains below his standards, so you can count on hell week at the Nets practice center.
"I'm OK now, but talk to me on Friday," Johnson said. "It's probably going to be a crazy week. We have to focus on our team, focus on getting better. We don't pass as well as we should pass. We don't cut the way we should cut. We have to do a better job of contesting shots. There are a lot of different things we gotta work on."
With a new arena and buzz building to a fever pitch, the time for the Nets to strike is now, because they're hot and in demand. If you wish to watch the Knicks-Nets opener at the Barclays Center, you'll be digging deep into your back account. Tickets for the sold-out game are available on StubHub and other secondary markets for an average of $800.87 per seat, with courtside seats normally priced for $1,500 at $8,100.
All that is great for starters, but it will be for naught if the Nets don't play to expectations.
"The crowd was into the game and that's the way it's going to be when we play the Knicks," Johnson said. "I don't know if the Knicks-Nets rivalry is about building a brand. I think you build your brand by winning, by winning in the playoffs, by hopefully getting to the Finals. You build your brand by consistency, and (Knicks aside), we still have to play other NBA teams and be successful against them."
Last weekend, however, Johnson was anything but impressed, for defensively the Nets weren't tough, but soft, so Johnson gave his men wearing the hip black-and-white a reality check. Talking and playing tough are two different things. Because the latter was the total opposite of the former, Johnson grew disappointed and let his team have it through the media after Sunday's open practice at the Barlcays Center.
Johnson commanded that an iron-and-steel defense be part of the Nets' DNA. While Brooklyn proceeded to make life miserable for Carmelo Anthony, holding the star forward to four of 13 from the field despite 15 points, Raymond Felton looked deft as the Knicks' floor general with 15 points and five assists. Third guard Pablo Prigioni (team high 11 helpers) directed traffic throughout overtime, when late in the extra session, sharpshooters Steve Novak and Mychel Thompson buried the Nets with consecutive three-pointers to give the Knicks a four-point lead with 44.3 seconds left, sending the partial crowd into a frenzy.
Brooklyn may indeed have a team. They may end up with a winning team. But New York's team? There's miles and miles to go before they fulfill one of the Big Russian's big dreams.
"We have to convince some of our players that we have to get tougher in those situations," Johnson said. "We're not there yet, we're not a finished product, so whatever happens when we play New York, they're gonna be big games, but we're not going to take any games more seriously than others.
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