When Jason Kidd came to the Nets back in 2001, he wasted little time throwing down the gauntlet and hoisting the rivalry with the Knicks to fever pitch by proclaiming the New Jersey bunch would not be

No. 2 in the area for long. He was right.

Now another star has arrived for the Nets and though not nearly as brash, Joe Johnson was just as confident the heart of the city game would beat foremost in Brooklyn. The backcourt of Johnson, a 17.8-point career scorer and six-time All-Star, plus Deron Williams, a three-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, is one big reason why the new Net picks his team to reign in New York.

"I honestly feel that way," Johnson told The Post before throwing out the first pitch — a perfect if not Sabathia-speed strike — at Yankee Stadium last night. "But everything is done and proven out on the court. I feel we have great pieces with myself and Deron at the one and two and Brook Lopez at the center spot. Those are three great pieces and then with Gerald Wallace, we've got a pretty good team to compete in the East."

And rule New York, if that really matters. To Avery Johnson, who led the Bleacher Creatures' roll call at the Yanks game, the rivalry will be fun but it is only a blot on the blueprint.