By Jared Max
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Our modern sports narrative for Uniondale and Manhattan is a tale of two cities.  

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IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES

While the New York Islanders have never had a better record through 25 games, the New York Knicks are on the verge of their worst 20-game start. While Nassau Coliseum has been rocking like it’s 1979, Madison Square Garden has become a mausoleum.

“I don’t want to get in that dark place,” said Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert Tuesday after the team fell to 4-15.

That same night, the Islanders won their seventh consecutive home game, lending more credence to a goal stated this week by captain John Tavares.

“We want to do what the ’80-81 team did in June,” Tavares said.

IT WAS THE SEASON OF LIGHT

While it is no secret that we are smack dab inside one of the least hopeful periods in New York sports history, a least likely silver lining emerged this autumn.

After the Yankees failed to qualify for October baseball for a second straight year and the Mets, as usual, went to bed shortly after dinner, the Jets pooped the bed to start the NFL season and the Giants needed rubber sheets soon after. While desperation may have led some who never watched a soccer match to follow the Red Bulls into the MLS playoffs, only those who have stuck by our most consistent, perennial local loser in the Islanders have enjoyed this fall sports harvest.

Twenty-five games into the NHL season, the Islanders have more wins than any NHL team. The ingredients of a champion are present, both in statistics and attitude.

When the Isles defeated the Ottawa Senators in overtime on Tuesday, the team improved its record in overtime/shootout games to a perfect 8-0. Clutch! Championship teams consistently win close games. Stanley Cup winners tend to feature the hottest goalies. Right now nobody is better than Jaroslav Halak, who is one win shy of breaking Billy Smith’s team record for consecutive victories. Halak has won his last 10 between the pipes, allowing 1.26 goals per game.

(Credit: Jared Max/WFAN)

(Credit: Jared Max/WFAN)

While the Islanders are coasting above their local NHL counterparts, they are talking like a team with a mentality to rule the NHL.

“The biggest thing for me is the leadership, how they’re handling one another and how they’re holding one another accountable,” Isles coach Jack Capuano said, according to NHL.com. From top to bottom, they’re playing extremely hard. They’re playing within the team concept and the structure we need to play.”

Tavares, who leads the team with 23 points, has no intention of easing on the gas pedal.

“It’s obviously been good to get the results we wanted,” Tavares said. “This puts us in good position, but there’s a long way to go.”

Some long trips are better than others. Islanders fans are stretched out in first class, sipping champagne and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies, unconcerned about when their transatlantic flight will land. Knicks fans are crunched into modern coach class — less comfortable than on a frozen bench at Lambeau Field — screaming for the emergency exits.

IT WAS THE SEASON OF DARKNESS

Nineteen games into the NBA season, the Knicks have a better record than two teams. If they lose on Thursday night at home against the Cavaliers, this 2014-15 edition of the Knickerbockers will have etched their signature on the worst 20-game start in franchise history. Knicks players sound scared of themselves.

“I’ve been in that dark space, and I couldn’t get out of it,” Shumpert said following the Knicks’ fifth straight loss on Tuesday. “So I don’t want to get in that.”

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Unlike the Islanders, who’ve made their mark as a team of Dickens-esque “haves” that win close games, the Knicks have exposed themselves as “have-nots.” They’re addicted to losing.

Twelve of the Knicks’ 19 games have been decided by seven or fewer points. In these close games, rookie head coach Derek Fisher’s team is 3-9. According to the Wall Street Journal, in games within five points in the final five minutes, the Knicks’ record is 2-9.

“Once you lose a few games like that, sometimes you get in your mind that you’re playing not to lose instead of just playing to win,” said Shumpert.

After Tuesday’s five-point loss to Brooklyn, Carmelo Anthony sounded like Jets coach Rex Ryan.

“The games that we’re losing, you can’t tell me that these teams are that much better than us,” Anthony said. “I really believe that”.

While Melo might be trying to convince himself — and Knicks fans — that there is reason for hope, Fisher sounds like he’s been falling asleep listening to Ryan audio tapes, too.

“If we were 4-15 and every time you watch us play we couldn’t beat the other team, I’d be concerned,” he said. “But concerned is a defeated word. That is a word of not believing that you can still figure things out, and we believe that right now.”

Fisher was admired as a player by NBA fans nationwide. As a first-year head coach, though, he has many wondering if he might have served himself — and the Knicks — best by continuing to play. Fisher’s tone seems the same after every loss.

Blah. Accepting. Uninspiring. He still sounds like a player, not a head coach. As the leader of a group of individuals who are starving to comprehend and demonstrate a team concept, Fisher should replace his “Rex Ryan Greatest Hits” cassette with Capuano’s 2014 breakout collection.

IT WAS THE SPRING OF HOPEIT WAS THE WINTER OF DESPAIR 

In 84 days the Yankees and Mets will hold their first full-squad workouts.

Great. Then what?

A close friend from college was in town last week for Thanksgiving. Normally when visiting, he makes his way to MSG to watch a Knicks game. Not this time.

“I looked at Knicks tickets, it’s a joke,” my friend, Tom, texted.

Normally he asks me to DVR a Knicks game for him so he can watch at my house after driving from his parents’ place on Long Island. Not this trip. Instead of paying big bucks to see his beloved Knicks, he surprisingly went to watch hockey.

He texted from the Islanders-Devils game: ”Feels like 1970s inside Nassau Coliseum. LOL.”

tom 2

Charles Dickens, 155 years ago, wrote about the best of times and the worst of times. The language has been shortened, but the meaning is the same.

We’d rather root for LOL than SMH.

Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.

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