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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 31 - Ordinarily, the Nets would look past Friday night's game against the Knicks and instead focus on Saturday's encounter with the Orlando Magic, who lead New Jersey by a half-game for ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

But the Nets, who trail the Philadelphia 76ers by one and a half games for the final playoff berth, cannot overlook the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

"This is a rivalry game," Nets forward Jason Collins said after Thursday's practice. "It doesn't get any bigger than that."

Since the Nets traded Stephon Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd in the summer of 2001, the Nets have won 17 of their last 20 meetings with the Knicks, including a four-game sweep in the first round of last season's playoffs.

In the teams' last meeting on Jan. 1, New Jersey won by 93-87, sending the Knicks on a downward spiral in which they lost 16 of their next 18 games. This came after Marbury proclaimed himself as the best point guard in the N.B.A. on New Year's Eve.
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