Nets forward Kevin Durant said last season it was easy to bypass the Knicks in free agency because their brand “isn’t as cool’’ any longer.
Of course, Durant made that remark before he picked Julius Randle for his Team Durant squad for last Sunday’s All-Star Game, before the Knicks hired veteran esteemed coach Tom Thibodeau, before RJ Barrett started to look like a future All-Star and before the Knicks drafted Immanuel Quickley out of Kentucky with the 25th pick.
While the Brooklyn Dream Team arguably has one of the most talented rosters in recent history, the Knicks have titillated the Big Apple with a 20-19 record more than halfway through the 72-game pandemic season.
The Knicks face the Nets on Monday at Barclays Center before a limited audience of about 1,400 — just one win away from equaling last season’s win total when they went 21-45 in a pandemic-shortened season. How many of the fans will be pulling for the Knicks is to be determined.
After whipping Oklahoma City on Saturday in a rare soft spot on their immediate schedule, the Knicks now have a beastly back-to-back in Brooklyn and in Philadelphia against the Eastern-leading Sixers. The Nets are second to Philly at 26-13.
“They are really good teams obviously,’’ Randle said. “They have great players on their team. It’s going to be a challenge with us being on the road. We’re up for it as a team. We’re confident on who we are as a team and if we stick to our principles we’re going to have a chance to win the game. We’re not worried about Philly right now. We’re worried about what we can do versus Brooklyn. We’ll be confident going into that game.’’
Last season, Randle clapped back at Durant for his “cool’’ remark but is over it.
“KD picked me for the All-Star team, so we’re good,’’ Randle said.
The Knicks won’t get the full brunt of the Brooklyn assemblage Monday on national television as Durant is still nursing a serious hamstring injury and newly signed Blake Griffin, a former All-Star, is still working himself into game shape. When the Nets beat the Knicks at the Garden on Jan. 13, it was the night of the James Harden blockbuster. Monday marks the first time the Knicks face The Beard in Brooklyn black.
“Two guys break you down on the dribble, [James] Harden and Kyrie [Irving], puts enormous pressure on you,’’ Thibodeau said. “You have to make decisions throughout the game who you’re going to double team and when. When you add Durant, it’s more problematic and you pick up Griffin you have a lot of weapons.”
Of the 17 Knicks players, just six have their alma-maters in the NCAA Tournament — Reggie Bullock (UNC), Theo Pinson (UNC), Alec Burks (Colorado), Taj Gibson (USC), Ignas Brazdeikis (Michigan) and Jared Harper (Alabama). The Knicks have four Kentucky players and the Wildcats suffered a disastrous season.