Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At 63 years old, Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo is old enough to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated on April 4, 1968. With that, Carlesimo understands what King stood for, the way his death affected America and the significance of having a day in his honor.
At the same time, Carlesimo has lived the NBA life long enough to know what Martin Luther Day means to the league. Not quite on the level of Christmas Day for the NBA, the league uses Martin Luther King Day as a showcase for some of its top teams and stars.
“I think it’s great the way the league honors this holiday,” Carlesimo said at practice at PNY Center on Sunday. “It’s become a very, very meaningful day in the NBA. I remember kind of when it first started and if anything, it acquires more and more significance each year.”
As part of a nine-game holiday slate on Monday, the Nets will travel to Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks in the fourth and final regular season installment of a still-budding rivalry that has received a heavy dose of hype with the Nets moving to Brooklyn this season.
Game time is set for 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on NBA TV in addition to MSG and YES.
The Knicks have taken two of three from the Nets this season, including a 100-86 decision on Dec. 19 in the last meeting between the two sides at Madison Square Garden.
Whether or not people want to call this a true New York City rivalry after just three regular season games, Carlesimo, a Fordham graduate and one-time head coach of Seton Hall, isn’t hesitating to do so.
“Hopefully, it’s gonna be a lot better game than the last time we were in the Garden,” Carlesimo said. “We don’t have to hype our guys up for this. It’s a division rival, it’s the other team in the city, they’ve beaten us two out of three, it’s Martin Luther King Day, it’s the Garden, it’s a game for city basketball.”
Carlesimo will be coaching the Nets against the Knicks for the first time on Monday after then-Nets head coach Avery Johnson was fired on Dec. 27, having lost those two of three against the Knicks.
The teams split the first two meeting this season. After having the Nov. 1 season-opener postponed in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the Nets claimed a 96-89 overtime decision at Barclays Center on Nov. 26.
Thanks in part to a Jason Kidd 3-pointer, plus the foul, the Knicks returned the favor, 100-97, on Dec. 11 before the Dec. 19 game.
Despite injuries, the Knicks (25-13) have held steady as the Atlantic Division leader and a contender for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, they are getting healthy with Amar’e Stoudemire improving seemingly every game after returning from knee surgery on Jan. 1 and Iman Shumpert making his season debut on Thursday in London, a 102-87 win over the Detroit Pistons.
The Nets (24-16) are rolling, having won 10 of 12 since Carlesimo took over to save a season that had slipped off the tracks. They enter the day second in the Atlantic Divison, just two games behind the Knicks, and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Adding to the significance of Monday is playoff positioning. The top of the Eastern Conference is becoming a log jam with the top five places being separated by just 3.5 games.
In terms of the Atlantic Division, a Knicks win would give them the season series over the Nets, plus the tiebreaker should they finish the regular season tied.
“Every game has been exciting,” Deron Williams said. “The game got a little out of hand last time we played them at the Garden, but we’ve had some close games, the fans have been great and there’s been a lot of energy between both teams.”
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA