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Lichtenstein: Playoff Success, Not Knicks' Demise, Will Boost Nets' Brand

By Steve Lichtenstein
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Let's hold off on this New York City takeover thing, OK?

Hey Deron Williams -- how about the Nets winning a round in the playoffs first?

The star point guard was one of few in the Brooklyn organization who went on the record on Tuesday to discuss the down season recorded by their rivals from across the East River.

Williams, in a semi-facetious manner, believes that the fact that the Nets will be the sole representatives from the Big Apple participating when the NBA postseason commences this weekend is "good for our brand." "It's part of the takeover" that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov envisioned for the city when he spent lavishly over the past two summers to remake his club.

Yes, the Knicks have gone through a season from hell, but if Williams needed any reminder of which team owns New York, Tuesday's 109-98 Knicks victory at the Barclays Center was a not-so-friendly one.

Blue was once again the dominant color among the spectators on Tuesday. Knicks fans delighted in their third whipping of the Nets in four tries, even if this one was a game where the Nets seemed more concerned with the final medical report than the box score.

But the larger point is that the Nets have got to stop with this Knicks obsession. This will not be a Nets-centric town in my lifetime.

There's barely been any change over the last 30 years in the fan makeups when the one-cup-in-70-years Rangers invade the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island or the Rock in New Jersey despite the multiple titles won by those suburban franchises. Does anyone involved with the Nets seriously believe they can turn lifelong Knicks fans any better?

Besides, the Nets need to be worrying more about their own collective game if they want to seriously compete with either Chicago or Toronto in the first round.

Remember the days when you wanted your team to be playing its best basketball heading into the playoffs?

Well, Nets coach Jason Kidd has obviously joined the league's conventional wisdom that resting core personnel to maximize health takes precedence over having continuity and momentum prior to Game 1.

Tuesday's loss was the Nets' third in their last four games since their scintillating one-point victory in Miami last week. To give you an idea as to who has been getting big minutes recently, the Nets' leading scorers in the last three games have been reserves Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton.

Don't expect anything different in tonight's regular season finale in Cleveland. Even though the Nets are in jeopardy of falling to the sixth seed should they lose and the Wizards top the Celtics, Kidd would rather suit up himself than risk injury to a key player at this juncture.

No matter who the Nets end up facing, it will be a team on a roll. Both the Raptors and the Bulls are on streaks of eight wins in 10 games.

That means the Nets better be able to find the "on" switch over the next few days or else they're headed for a second consecutive first-round exit.

The closest the Nets have ever been to becoming kings of the metropolitan area was during the early years of this century when Kidd ruled the court.

The Nets' run to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, however, did not produce lasting appeal. Soon after, Nets ownership became fixated on Brooklyn and drained the team's talent in preparation for a rebirth in the borough. The Nets' final seasons in New Jersey had few witnesses.

After an inaugural season in Brooklyn that was more feeling-out than feel-good, there's been a noticeable uptick in fan enthusiasm at Barclays this season, especially since the Nets began their revival at the dawn of the New Year.

But if the Nets want to gain any real traction from this season, they need to win at least a round in the playoffs this time.

Despite their mediocre record, the Nets have an opportunity to make some noise.

But that's all it is--an opportunity. Lay another egg like last season's Game 7 loss at home to Chicago and the season will go down as a waste.

A very expensive waste.

You see, the way to building a fan base is through continued postseason success, not the demise of a rival.

For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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