The Nets and Knicks don’t seem to be taking extra incentive in their cross-river rivalry. Their dire standings situations will be motivation enough Sunday.
It’s easy to see how one team — or both — could be flat for the nationally televised game at Barclays Center (1 pm, ABC). The Knicks will be on the last leg of a grueling seven-game road trip. The Nets will be coming off an emotional win in Philadelphia, having faced ex-teammate James Harden and the fans’ hate of new Net Ben Simmons.
But the two teams’ desperate positions in the play-in race (the Nets entered Saturday eighth in the East, the Knicks 12th with 15 games left, including Sunday) mean neither can afford a hangover.
“The urgency is there’s 15 games,” Nets guard Patty Mills said. “We’ve just played three games with almost all of our pieces. There’s enough reasons for us to have the urgency to be able to string these games together.
“Like I said, the Holy Grail is a championship, and time isn’t on our side but we have enormous opportunity here with these 15 games coming up to keep on getting better. These three games were great, now we get to come home — where we haven’t been great at home all year — to be able to build on that. So does it help [to play a rival]? Perhaps. But I don’t think it’s a factor.”
The Nets were 2 ½ games behind Toronto pending the Raptors’ game Saturday night at Denver, and 1 ½ clear of both No. 9 Charlotte and No. 10 Atlanta.
The Knicks’ six-game trek across all four time zones is over but, technically, not their road games.
When the Knicks (28-39) visit the Nets, they’ll be playing their seventh straight game away from the Garden, but it’s a “road game” in name only.
Per usual, there will be plenty of Knicks fans stuffed inside Barclays Center. James Dolan’s franchise still dominates the market.
But that won’t be a guarantee of dominating the game. The Knicks flew back from Memphis, landing in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and will lose an hour for the clock change before the matinee in Brooklyn.
The Nets are coming off an evisceration of the 76ers behind Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but won’t have Irving because he won’t get vaccinated. Simmons also won’t play because the newcomer isn’t ready to compete yet.
The Knicks are a respectable 3-3 on the trip, but there’s no margin for error with 15 games left. The three-game winning streak could’ve been a season-high four had they simply protected a 15-point third-quarter lead at Memphis on Friday, instead of being run out of the building by Ja Morant’s blue band. Instead, the Knicks fell 4 ½ games out of the play-in behind the Hornets and Hawks.
“We’re playing the top of the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of their road trip. “We’re doing a lot of good things, and we’re learning a lot. We have to keep improving. And so the next challenge in Brooklyn.
“And they’re coming off a huge win. And they’re sitting on a couple days rest. … We have to be ready every night in this league. That’s why toughness is so important.”
Asked if he saw the Nets’ slaughter of the Sixers on Thursday, Thibodeau said: “I watched a little bit of it. Any team that has that high level of talent you know how good they are. You watch that game and you look at the three guys that Philly has and the guys that Brooklyn has, that’s high-end. That’s tough.”
RJ Barrett lamented the Knicks’ inability to close out games in which they had big leads. That cost them at Memphis and in their last meeting with the Nets.
“We had a good road trip,” Barrett said. “I feel like we’ve been playing very well, also going against the top teams. We’ve given them a run for their money, just with us learning to continue to figure out how to close out games. That’s all we’re gonna try to do.”
They’ll hope to do it better than their Feb. 16 game against the Nets, when they blew a 28-point lead in the Garden. Rookie Cam Thomas had 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead a Nets win, and is eyeing another shot at their rivals.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Thomas told The Post.