Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.comNEW YORK — Once the Brooklyn Nets had defeated the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, everyone knew what was next.
The fourth and final installment of the "Battle of the Boroughs."
The Nets and Knicks are set to square off in a Monday afternoon matinee at Madison Square Garden. With the Knicks holding a 2-1 edge in the season series and the Nets trailing the Knicks by just two games in the Atlantic division, this is probably one of the more important mid-season games you'll see this season.
Usually, the NBA preserves at least one or two intra-division "rivalry" games for later on in the season, but the Knicks will already do battle with the Boston Celtics (March) and Miami Heat (March, April) and the Nets are counting down the days to their season-long eight game road trip from March 18 to April 3.
The first three times these teams played, most of the players tried to downplay the significance of this game.
Not this time.
"It's definitely hard not to get caught up in it because everyone's always talking about it," Johnson said when asked about the rivalry. "Honestly, I think the last times we've played them, it's been a playoff-type game, on the floor, the atmosphere, so that's what I expect on Monday."
Even though it's only mid-January, Johnson thinks that this qualifies as a "big" game.
"It's very important [to win]," he said. "It's like two games, so this is a game we really have to focus in on and know what's at hand for us to move up in the standings. Right now ,the Knicks are playing great basketball and it's gonna be tough to go into Madison Square Garden and get a win but I'm sure we can do it."
And as for whether or not it's "too early" to be looking in the standings? Johnson doesn't think so. "It's not too early," he said. "I take a look at it from time to time just to see where we're at, just to see how much further we have to go or see how much further ahead the next team is ahead of us. I mean, I always take a peak at it."
"Those [Knicks] know what it takes to win and they've been doing it all year and we don't expect for it to be easy."
Deron Williams echoed the sentiments of Johnson. "It's a really big game for us," Williams said. "They beat us twice now and it's a huge game, we're only a couple games in back of them, so it's big."
Williams says that he believes that the Nets are a better team than when his Nets squared off against the Knicks back on Dec. 19 when the Knicks won 100-86. He did, however, also acknowledge that with the returns of Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, that the Knicks are an improved team, as well.
"I think they're a lot better, too," he said. "They have those guys back and that's definitely gonna help their team, so it's gonna be a battle."
Johnson was less certain about how the returns of Stoudemire and Shumpert would affect the Knicks. "Sometimes, when you have a situation like that and guys come back, the rotations get altered a little bit and it can knock guys off rhythm a little bit, so I don't know."