Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were in street clothes Thursday night at Barclays Center, which means any definitive matchup between the Knicks and the Nets isn’t going to happen at least until next season when both players are actually in uniform.
The Nets hope to get Irving back from a shoulder injury sometime in the near future, but Durant’s Achilles isn’t going to be fully healed until the 2020-21 season.
Still, the Nets remain in playoff contention this year, which on the surface meant this game carried more cache for Brooklyn than it did for the bottom-feeding Knicks. Only you couldn’t tell by the play on the court.
The Knicks, who looked so horrible in losing to the Wizards at the Garden on Monday night, rebounded with one of their better performances of the season in a 94-82 triumph that snapped a three-game losing streak.
“We look like the Knicks tonight!” someone shouted from the cheap seats at Barclays Center as the Nets trailed by 23 points in the third quarter.
Responded another fan: “We’re not that bad.”
The Nets actually were that bad, while the Knicks looked that good, vaulting interim coach Mike Miller back into consideration to be named the club’s permanent head coach.
One game doesn’t usually mean much in the NBA, and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson tried to shrug it off as a bad night by his team.
“I think it’s more of a matter of us just not playing well tonight for whatever reason it was,” he said.
Still, the Knicks’ first win against the Nets in three meetings this year showed a team that was so lethargic Monday actually looking competitive Thursday. They handled the Nets on both ends of the floor, as Brooklyn shot an awful 26.9 percent from the field.
It was not only a good showing by the Knicks, but also a good night for Miller. His team did some soul-searching during the holidays and played with energy and passion Thursday night.
Miller, the shortest-tenured coach in the New York area, was going against Atkinson, the longest-tenured coach, and it was the rookie who got the much-needed win.
“I thought our guys played with great energy and we really had a great focus,” Miller said. “I love the effort that we played with and how we connected.”
Hired in 2016, Atkinson is in his fourth season with the Nets, giving him senior status among all the other coaches/managers of major professional teams in the area. Asked by The Post if that made him feel good or put him on edge, Atkinson went for the latter.
“I’m a nervous person by nature,” he said. “It’s a tough business in a tough town and expectations have been raised. I get the business and watch it in other sports. I know my time will eventually come.”
Despite his team’s performance Thursday, there is no pinks slip headed Atkinson’s way. He did a marvelous job coaching the Nets to a 42-40 record and a playoff berth last season. Despite what happened Thursday, he has the Nets playing well enough to where he doesn’t have to rush Irving back into action to salvage the season.
By contrast, every game and every win is vital to Miller as the Knicks develop a list of coaches to pursue at season’s end. He is 4-6 since taking over for David Fizdale, who was 4-18 when he was fired in December in the midst of an eight-game losing streak.
For Miller to have his team bounce back after such a dreadful effort three days earlier shows his players haven’t given up on him or the season.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us,” Knicks forward Marcus Morris said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. This is a positive we can take away. This is a good Brooklyn Nets team that has beaten a lot of good teams during the season. Coming into their house and beating them says a lot about us.”
It says a lot about Miller, too.