NEW YORK — A friend of mine worked with wealthy Russians for over 15 years.

“I can state with some confidence Mikhail Prokhorov is not finished with the Nets’ pursuit of Carmelo Anthony,” Sam Lefkowitz underlines. “He will allow all others to establish market value and then beat it. He may not get his man, but that is the plan.”

That notion is shared by a European contact.

“After 30-plus years here I can only tell you that the Russians always want important things discussed behind closed doors,” e-mails the source. “If the talks are still going on (or if they’re not and start again), that will be the place they are conducted.”

Props to the Nets, who have become the first association assemblage to match last season’s win total following the poisoning of the Pistons.

New Jersey’s seismic showdown on Monday night against clinically dead Cleveland promised to be even less competitive than imagined.

Can’t figure out what’s more improbable . . . the Cavs dropping 17 games in row and 27 of 28 or actually winning seven of their first 15.

Hate to bring this up, but Cleveland’s sole victim was the Knicks in OT.

By the way, the Heat hit New York Thursday night . . . provided LeBron James can get Mayor Bloomberg to subsidize his latest birthday bash.

If your success is predicated on outscoring your opponent and you’re not scoring . . . well, boys and girls, do the math.

Such is the case of the sinking-toward-sea-level Knicks, who schlepped a six-game skid into Madison Square Garden Monday against the now-0-21-road-kill Wizards.

Prior to Saturday night’s 101-98 setback to the Thunder, their Texas two-step was low-lighted by 89 points and 42 percent shooting in Houston and 92 points and less than 38 percent from the field against the incessantly surging Spurs.

Lest we forget that 83-point, 31.5 percent free clinic they put on in losing to Sacramento at home.

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Rick Pitino advocates swear his failure to get so much as nominated for the Hall of Fame is diametrically related to his senseless decision to strip Red Auerbach of his title as team president and glom it for himself.

It’s a perception that’s difficult to argue against considering his 584-212 (.734) collegiate coaching record. Five times his teams have reached the NCAA Final Four, resulting in one title (Kentucky ’96) and a second-place finish the following year.

Pitino is the only coach in men’s history to lead three different schools — Providence, Kentucky and Louisville — to Final Four appearances.

You’re within your rights, of course, to note John Wooden, Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski (and others, presumably, that I can’t name) achieved that distinction with one school.

Nonetheless, you must admit Pitino’s accomplishment surpasses a reasonable number of sharp guys wielding quite a few clipboards and playbooks.

True, he has lived down to his nickname (Rick the Reptile) at times.

True, he has cheated on his wife and publicly embarrassed her and the University of Louisville.

On the backstroke, if being faithless to your significant other is the decisive factor in determining genuine Hall Of Fame contemplation, Springfield’s induction center would be a ghost hideout.

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If Antonio McDyess retires after the season, he will be paid $2.64 million next year if there’s no work stoppage. If I retire tomorrow, I get a Gregg Popovich connect-the-dots coloring book.

Of all the NBA players who have scored 20,000 or more points, only 10 are not in the Hall of Fame. Eight of those are active or not eligible yet, leaving only Mitch Richmond and Tom Chambers as odd men out.

Of players drafted in 2007, Kevin Durant (25.7), Jeff Green and Wilson Chandler (14.1) own the highest career scoring averages.

Time to turn the Peja. Toronto and Stojakovic agreed to a buyout. Bryan Colangelo said he would rather watch the young guys perform than have Peja go out and impede their losing effort.

Colangelo is in the final year of his contract. Word has it he’ll be released of his duties before it expires. . .

Larry Bird’s $40 million, 8-year contract also is concluding. When he signed it was evenly broken into halves, with the team owning the option on the second $20 million/four years.

If it’s Herb Simon’s call, look for Bird to return.

Should David Simon — son of Herb’s deceased brother — now have control, look for him to hire a new president, coach and GM . . . if the family still owns the Pacers.

Jerry West, whose Staples Center statute will be unveiled the Thursday leading into All-Star Weekend, picks the Celtics to win the title. He feels the Lakers are getting too old to remain championship contenders for four straight seasons.

“You can get players to rotate on defense but you can’t rotate their tires,” West said.

Peter Vecsey cover the NBAfor the New York Post.

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