Johnson on facing Knicks: 'We owe them'

Joe Johnson looks on as Jason Kidd, Melo and Tyson Chandler celebrate the Knicks' victory on Dec. 11. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

From the day he was introduced at Borough Hall until now, Joe Johnson has proclaimed the Brooklyn Nets as the top team in New York City.

So far, that hasn’t been the case.

But Johnson and the Nets will get a chance to even the season series with their cross-river rival New York Knicks on Monday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, when the two teams clash for a fourth and final time during the regular season.

“We’ve gotta go in there with the mind-frame that we know it’s going to be a hostile environment. And someway, somehow, we’ve gotta come out of there on top,” said Johnson, who has averaged 13.7 points on 37.5 percent shooting in the first three meetings between the two teams (1-2).

“They beat us the last two times, and we owe them.”

On Dec. 19, the Nets were beaten handily by the Knicks, 100-86, at MSG. At that point, they dropped to 13-12. Three games later, head coach Avery Johnson was fired. P.J. Carlesimo took over on an interim basis.

The Nets (24-16) have been a different team ever since. They’ll come into Monday afternoon’s matchup having won eight of nine and 10 of 12.

Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have been playing like superstars. MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic have gone from warming the bench to serving as valuable contributors. The entire roster -- 1 through 15 -- is beaming with confidence.

“It’s a really big game for us,” Williams said. “They’ve beaten us twice in a row. It’s a huge game. We’re only a couple games back of them, so it’s big.”

Ever since the Nets have gotten hot, the Knicks (25-13) have cooled down. They’re just 5-5 in their last 10 games, and lead the Nets by just two games in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.

Still, they just got tenacious perimeter defender Iman Shumpert back on Thursday -- the same day Amar’e Stoudemire finally had his first strong game of the season.

“I think they’re a lot better, too,” Williams said. “They have those guys back, which is definitely going to help their team. So it’s gonna be a battle.”

Gerald Wallace downplayed the game.

“The biggest thing for us is (playoff seeding),” he said. “Our goal is to win the division, so every game is important for us.”

But what about the rivalry? Nets. Knicks. Doesn’t get any bigger than this, no?

“Nah. Nah. I’m from Alabama,” Wallace joked.