Postseason hunt spices up Knicks-Nets rivalry game

The Battle of the Boroughs in New York will come with heavier stakes this Sunday on a nationally televised matinee game on ABC.

The last time the Knicks and Nets faced off, rookie Cam Thomas led a 28-point comeback as Brooklyn fans made their voices heard at Madison Square Garden.

Knicks fans hope to get their revenge at Barclays, but it will need a collective and complete effort from their team, which reverted to squandering leads after a season-high-tying three-game win streak.

The Knicks went back to 4 1/2 games behind the final play-in spot after blowing a 15-point third-quarter lead in Memphis last Friday. On the other hand, the Nets are coming off an emotionally-charged win in Philadelphia against their former teammate James Harden to climb back to above .500 and remain on the hunt to get out of the play-in. They are four behind sixth seed Cleveland Cavaliers.

With the postseason chase as a backdrop, the Knicks and Nets face again. But this time, the Nets no longer have to lean heavily on a rookie as they got Kevin Durant back. There will still be no Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, but Durant’s star power alongside their other trade deadline acquisitions should be enough to impose a great challenge for the Knicks.

“We’re playing the top of the league,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said following their heartbreaking 118-114 loss at the hands of the Ja Morant-led Grizzlies.

“We’re doing a lot of good things. And we’re learning a lot. And we have to keep improving.”

The Knicks seemed to have grown tougher in their recent road trip, collecting big wins against playoff-bound teams Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks and the rejigged Sacramento Kings. They also came a Julius Randle ejection short of upsetting the league-leading Phoenix Suns.

Despite those tough losses to Suns and Grizzlies, their current road trip has emboldened the Knicks to chase a play-in spot with 15 games left.

“We had a good road trip,’’ RJ 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 going to try to do.’’

They have a shot at improving their play-in hopes in the building where the Nets have lost 18 of 31 games.

But there’s a renewed buzz around the team since the Harden trade, which was evident in the Nets fans invading the Garden in their last game. It happened again in Philadelphia.

“Our fans traveled,” Durant said after their emphatic 129-100 road win against Harden and the 76ers. “It was pretty remarkable to see Brooklyn fans because the label on us is that we don’t have any fans. To hear them in a huge arena like this, fighting against another energetic crowd, like the Sixers fans. I’m starting to see it more and more the last couple of years since I’ve been here. That fans are starting to travel. We’re going to need that going forward.”

The New York rivalry has never been this hotter.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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