Madison Square Garden has always been New York’s legendary home for winter sports with its house teams, basketball’s Knicks and hockey’s Rangers.
Not this winter.
The World’s Most Famous Arena is taking a backseat this season to its little brother in Brooklyn where the NHL Islanders and NBA Nets are lighting up the Barclays Center.
The Rangers announced to their fans a full–fledged overhaul and rebuilding effort late last season and carried it out top to bottom starting with new coach David Quinn. Only a sudden spurt of three straight wins before the All-Star break allowed the Blueshirts to push past .500. They remain, however, on what might be considered a treadmill to oblivion, still offering only the afterglow of their 1994 Stanley Cup, their only championship since 1940.
The Islanders, on the other hand, have been a happy surprise after their best player and captain John Tavares took a free agent ticket to Toronto. New boss Lou Lamoriello, imported from the Maple Leafs to run their operation, brought a portfolio of success with him and it rubbed off immediately. New coach Barry Trotz came over after winning the Cup in Washington and instilled a winning culture and what had been a woebegone franchise, a team that once won four straight Cups while playing in the Rangers’ backyard. They moved into first place on Trotz’s return to his former town, a kind of neat moment for him and his new team.
That brings us to the Knicks, a place you really don’t want to dwell very long. Armed with anonymous roster, they had a sad sack 10 wins in the first half of the season. They almost made it 11 on a trip to London to play the Washington Wizards. But they lost that one too, on a goaltending call in the final second of the game.It was the perfect ending for a team that seems to find new and imaginative ways to lose every night. This team remains sadly adrift in a sea of futility with no port in sight.
Meanwhile, the Nets have a newfound bounce in their step. Energized by previously faceless players – you’ll never mistake SpencerDinwiddie for Steph Curry or DeMarre Carroll for LeBron James — the Brooklyn Nets bounced off the deck with a run of 16 wins in 21 games to push past .500 for the first time in what seems forever.
It’s not just the winning for the Nets. It’s how they are winning. They reached .500 with aremarkable come-from-behind overtime win against Houston, overcoming one of James Harden’s routine 50-plus point nights and then backed that up with another impressive comeback, win wiping out a 21-point deficit to defeat Orlando.
This is the kind of stuff that turns heads. These are not the same old Nets and certainly not the same old Islanders. They have injected some excitement in New York’s otherwise bleak winter.