- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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"Yeah. It's just what I feel," Johnson told ESPN NewYork.com after scoring a team-high 21 points in his team's 98-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon. "I'm not gonna expand on it, but that's just the way I feel."
Johnson and the Nets will get their first chance to prove it on Monday night inside the $1 billion Barclays Center.
Finally, after the season-opener between the two teams was postponed due to the devastation and destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy, let the East River Rivalry begin.
"I'm sure it's going to be a hostile environment for them," Johnson said. "Everybody's been waiting for this moment, and we're gonna try to come out and protect our home court."
The Nets are 6-1 in their brand-new arena this season, their best start at home since the 2002-03 season when the team started 18-1 on its home court.
D-Will, who has been looking forward to this game ever since he signed a five-year, $98 million contract to remain in Brooklyn, knows things are going to different in the stands than they were the last two seasons in New Jersey on Monday night. Nets CEO Brett Yormark even expects those wearing black-and-white to outnumber those sporting blue-and-orange.
"There's definitely going to be some Knicks fans in there," Williams said. "But I don't think it'll be as bad as it was last year, or the year before that. You saw in the Celtics game (this season), there was some Celtics fans in the building, but two years ago, there were more Celtics fans than Nets fans. I don't see that being a problem.
"I think it'll be a great atmosphere. I think a lot of fans are looking forward to this game -- and we are too. Hopefully it’s going to be a great rivalry for years to come."
The way both teams are playing, it’s certainly looking that way. The Knicks (9-3) have thrived defensively under coach Mike Woodson, and Carmelo Anthony is currently performing at an MVP-caliber level. The Nets (8-4) currently trail them by a game for first place in the Atlantic Division standings.
"That’s why it's a big game. It's not just because it's the Knicks, it's because they have (one of the) best record(s) in the East, and they're a tough team, so it's a good game for that purpose," Williams said.
"This is a game that a lot of people have been waiting for," Avery Johnson said. "We're excited about it. We're at home. I know our guys are gonna be jacked up and ready to play, but with that said, we've gotta be ourselves. We know what style we like to play, what tempo we like to play at. We've got to take care of the ball, make sure that we're physical and mentally tough. I think it's gonna be a great game."
13dKevin Pelton and Chad Ford