New York, New York: Knicks, Nets meet Monday


New York, New York: Knicks, Nets meet Monday

NEW YORK (AP) From Madison Square Garden to the Garden State, the Knicks cast a shadow the Nets could never escape.

The Knicks were considered first rate and the Nets second class, even in years when the better team was in New Jersey. The Nets would watch fans in orange and blue take over their home games, believing all along things would be different when they finally got their shot at the Knicks in Brooklyn.

Well, here it comes.

The city rivals play the makeup of their postponed season opener on Monday, a matchup the Knicks insist is just another game but one that's probably much bigger to the Nets.

``I think obviously being on center stage tomorrow night, all eyes on Brooklyn, truly makes this a very special night for us because it's something that we worked for, for so long,'' Nets CEO Brett Yormark said Sunday. ``Even though it's not opening night, it's a dramatic night. I mean, the Knicks are playing well, the Nets are playing well, Brooklyn's certainly embraced this franchise, and I think tomorrow night is hopefully the start of some really special nights between the Nets and the Knicks.

``Yeah, I'd love to win the game, but it's more than that. It's about making a statement that this franchise has arrived and we are certainly part of the conversation when people are talking about pro basketball in New York.''

Yormark sought to host the Knicks for the Barclays Center opener and that's what the NBA scheduled, but the game was postponed when Superstorm Sandy halted most subway travel to Brooklyn. It becomes in some ways more intriguing now with both teams off to strong starts, the Knicks (9-3) leading the Atlantic Division by one game over the Nets (8-4).

First matchup, first place on the line. Sounds big enough for a regular-season game, just don't call it a rivalry. At least, not yet.

``I think that word's been thrown around. I think we hope that it does become that, but you know the Brooklyn Nets are apparently different than the New Jersey Nets and this is a new beginning,'' Knicks forward Steve Novak said. ``So I think to call it a rivalry before it started is a little bit early, but I don't think there's any question it's going to be a good game.''

Among the Knicks, only Carmelo Anthony, a Brooklyn native whom the Nets desperately tried to acquire to be the franchise centerpiece for their move, seemed to view the game as anything special. Jason Kidd, who led the Nets to their greatest NBA success back when they owned the Knicks but never the New York area, called it ``just another game on the road.''

``I've been saying consistently that a rivalry comes through playoffs and hard-fought games. It just doesn't come from a team moving and two good teams in one year. It has to go throughout history,'' Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. ``Honestly, I don't buy too much into the whole situation, the rivalry. I don't consider it a rivalry. I don't think - it hasn't been enough. Honestly, I feel more animosity towards the Heat and the Celtics than I do the Nets.''

But the Nets, even the ones who didn't endure the many miserable years in New Jersey, know what it means to the franchise and their fans, many of them new and some of them even Knicks fans who converted.

``It should be a hostile environment for them so to speak,'' Nets guard Joe Johnson said. ``I think it will be fun. I think everybody has been waiting for this moment and we're going to come out and protect the home court.''

Games in New Jersey, where the Nets played in multiple spots for 35 years after leaving Long Island, often felt like Madison Square Garden West. Knicks fans sometimes appeared to make up two-thirds of the crowds, Knicks players trying to hide their amusement and the Nets their frustration.

The Nets think they've got a much stronger fan base now, with about 11,000 season tickets sold, and they know they'll see a good balance of fans dressed in their black Monday night.

``There's definitely going to be some Knicks fans in there, but I don't think it will be as bad as it was last year and the year before that,'' Nets guard Deron Williams said.

The game will be televised on TNT and Yormark said some 100 media members are expected. The Nets, 6-1 in their $1 billion arena, may have to guard against being too hyped up - though that won't be a problem for at least one of them.

``You're talking to a person, this is my 11th year in the league. I've played the Knicks about 100 times. It's just another game to be honest with you,'' forward Reggie Evans said. ``I think it's big for a lot of people on the outside, but we just approach the game like a regular game. If we win we're not going to be all in the middle of the court like `Oh, oh!' We're not going to be popping no champagne.''

Former Nets coach Lawrence Frank said the series always lacked the competitiveness to be a true rivalry, because the Knicks beat the Nets for so many years but then almost never did when Kidd was there from 2001-08. Now, he says, it could finally get there with both teams on a similar upward path.

``It's good for the metropolitan area when both teams are doing well, it just hasn't happened a whole lot when both teams were good at the same time. They've kind of taken turns,'' said Frank, now coaching Detroit. ``Now that they're both highly competitive, I think it's good for the area.''

Even the Knicks acknowledge the rapid rise of their rivals, Anthony saying he's watched their games and gotten goose bumps when fans chant ``Brook-lyn! Brook-lyn!'' They will get a good look at the Nets with the teams meeting three times over the next 3 1/2 weeks, twice in Brooklyn.

Perhaps those other ones will feel like regular games for everyone, as the Knicks say they are. For now, the first one isn't to the team that now shares their city.

``In an 82-game schedule, the way I look at it, every game's important, but there are those special games, you know what I mean?'' Yormark said. ``And tomorrow I think is one of those special games. It means a little bit more.''


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How Kirk Cousins' next two games will directly impact the Redskins' playoff chances

How Kirk Cousins' next two games will directly impact the Redskins' playoff chances

A week after it felt borderline irresponsible to talk about the Redskins' 2018 playoff chances, it now feels completely necessary. 

Sure, you can make a pretty easy argument that this team doesn't look like a postseason team. But the fact of the matter is they're in a position to possibly become one in a handful of days.

And who's going to have a lot of say in whether the 'Skins do advance beyond Week 17? Kirk Cousins, because DUH.

Thanks to Dallas' Week 15 loss, Washington isn't out of the division hunt yet. However, their far more likely path to the playoffs is via the wild card, a spot that Cousins and the Vikings currently occupy.

To take that spot, the 'Skins really need to win out (they could still take the sixth seed by finishing 8-8, but that would take a lot more help). That means, first and foremost, Josh Johnson has to lead the Burgundy and Gold to victories over the Titans and the Eagles, which would have them finish the year at 9-7.

If that happens, the Redskins will then only require one Minnesota loss in the next two weeks to steal the second wild card. The Vikings square off with the Lions and Bears to wrap up their schedule, with the former happening in Detroit and the latter taking place in Minneapolis. 

The Eagles are also a factor in all of this, but Jay Gruden's squad could make them less of one by beating them in the 2018 finale.

Earlier this season, when everything was going right for the Redskins, it looked like a January showdown between Cousins' former franchise and his current one could happen. Now, though, the two squads are vying for the same position. 

So, it's really simple, 'Skins supporters — root for your guys to win two more and root against Cousins as well. This time around, No. 8 coming up short down the stretch would really benefit Washington.


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Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Comfort carries allure for most. That includes Matt Adams.

He knew when traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in August a chance for a return to Washington existed. Adams got along with all levels of staff while operating quietly at his locker and pulverizing right-handed pitching on the field. The hole he filled in 2018 would exist again in 2019, so why couldn’t he return?

It all seems so simple, and it turned out to be. Adams’ one-year deal for $4 million, which includes a mutual option for 2020, was announced Tuesday by the Nationals after first being reported during the weekend. The left-handed bench piece Washington needed is in place for this season. It could well be back in 2020 when the team’s first base personnel could undergo a large change if Ryan Zimmerman’s option is not picked up.

“I don’t follow too much of the media stuff in the offseason,” Adams said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“But the way that everything was left when I was traded, we were on good communication, up until that point. Everything that was said leading up to that trade, if the opportunity presented itself [to return] I would be on their list. I’m kind of lost for words, because I’m excited for this opportunity. But I think the team is definitely going to be better than it was last year, with the acquisitions that [Mike Rizzo] has made so far this offseason.”

Adams is pleased he’s not hunting a job until late into February. More frequently role players are without homes for most of, if not all of, the pre-spring training portion of the offseason. Adams is settled a week before Christmas.

“For me, the way my brain and myself works, the later I sign, the more freaked out I'm going to be,” Adams said. “Because it's the unknown that's out there. Not knowing where you're going to go, how many people you're going to know on that team you're going to sign with...For me, I was lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to sign back with the Nats where I know everybody and I get along with absolutely everybody from front office to coaches and all the players. For me, it felt like the right opportunity and I was just fortunate to get the deal done when we got it done.”

Adams’ value lays in his potency against right-handed pitching. He hit 20 of his 21 home runs last season against right-handers. This is in line with his career arc that includes 83 of his 96 home runs against right-handed throwers. Adams also slugged .538 against right-handed pitchers while with the Nationals last season. 

He’s again positioned to platoon at first base and be summoned to hit late in games. Adams played much more often than anticipated last season following Zimmerman’s languishing oblique injury. 

“I think it’s just coming up with that mindset of being ready whether your name’s called or not,” Adams said. “Whether it’s on an everyday basis or, like you said, sporadic, here and there, pinch-hitting off the bench, filling in and giving Zim a blow when he needs it. But I think going into spring training in the best shape I can possibly be in, going in ready to get better, ready to work. And wherever the season takes me playing-time wise, I’m just excited to be on a winning club with a good chance to get back to the postseason.”

Bringing Adams back reduces the Nationals’ offseason list. They need a fourth starter. They are considering a full-time second baseman. Another bench option is also part of the hunt, though it’s reliant on what happens at second base (Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick could fill that spot if an every day second baseman is signed). Left-handed bench bat is spoken for.