They don't want it to get ugly. They don't think there's a reason for it to get ugly. They're pretty sure it won't get ugly.

But if it does get ugly between the Nets and Knicks in their first-round playoff series?

The Nets say they're ready for it.

Or at least Kenyon Martin is.

"I'm not going to let anyone get hurt," said Martin, the Nets' resident enforcer. "I'm not going to let anything happen to anybody on my team.

"If (the Knicks) are going to retaliate, they're going to retaliate. But I'm not going to let anyone on my team take something that's unnecessary. I don't back down from anyone."

And so the warning shots are now being fired on both sides of the Hudson River, a sign that even if the basketball doesn't get all that interesting in this intramural tussle, at least the discourse will be. There's no telling where this all goes once Game 2 starts tomorrow night -- it could go exactly nowhere -- but there's no question about where it all began, at least from the Knicks point of view.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Nets' 107-83 victory in Game 1, Tim Thomas drove the lane and was closing in for a dunk. Jason Collins had no intention of letting that happen, and went to stop the penetration.

Collins' defensive zeal combined with his athletic limitations in a way that didn't end happily for Thomas. Instead of swatting the ball, Collins didn't quite get high enough and swatted Thomas's arm instead. Thomas fell awkwardly, landing on his back. He left the floor on his own feet, with assistance from his teammates, but left the arena face down, on a stretcher with back contusions that will have him questionable for Game 2.

Which was not Collins' intention.

"You never want to see another player injured on the court," Collins said. "I've had a lot of injuries during my career. I never go out with the intent to injure someone."

Collins later added, "I just hope he's okay."

That may not be enough to satisfy the Knicks.

"Whether it was intentional or not, it definitely sets a tone," Allan Houston said after Game 1. "It sets a tone for more physical play than normal."

As Kurt Thomas said, "It could possibly (get ugly)."

Not that those saber-rattling comments seemed to mean much to the Nets yesterday.

"Who gives a (hoot) what they say?" Kidd said. "We have no control over what they say. This is America. Freedom of speech."

The whole issue is whether Saturday night's talk turns into action tomorrow night.

Collins is a Stanford guy, therefore he's smart enough to know there may be some retaliation coming his way, especially if the Nets are able to push the score out-of-hand in the second half of Game 2 as they did in the second half of Game 1. But he's ready for whatever happens.

"We know how to protect ourselves out on the court," Collins said. "And the referees saw what happened. I'm sure they'll do a good job protecting us like they always do."

Either way, Collins didn't sound especially worried about getting body-slammed himself.

"It's not like I get up off the ground very high," he pointed out.

For the most part, the Nets -- other than perhaps Martin -- went out of their way to not escalate the rhetoric. They have no interest in engaging in some kind of tit-for-tat, you-whack-our-guy-we'll-whack-yours kind of series.

"If they want to (retaliate), that's on them," Kidd said. "We're out there to play basketball. This isn't about who's going to take a shot at who. This is basketball. This isn't boxing."

Furthering that metaphor, Nets coach Lawrence Frank said, "We don't anticipate this being a heavyweight fight. This is basketball. It's playoff basketball. Unfortunately, that incident happened. It wasn't like a punch was thrown. We're going to continue to play basketball. That's what we do."

They've played physical postseason series before (Detroit in 2003 and Charlotte in 2002 come to mind). They say they'll play another physical one if they need to.

In the meantime, they'll be ready for whatever happens.

"There's no telling what's going to go on (tomorrow). They might start something, they might not," Martin said. "I'm not concerned or worried about any of that going on. If it does? We'll deal with it."