Nets playoff preview: Brook Lopez gets first taste of playoffs
The Nets current roster has 270 games of playoff experience ranging. The most significant player without any experience is center Brook Lopez.
Saturday is a culmination of long process that followed the transition from the Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson years to the move from New Jersey.
Along the way, he played every game for a team that lost its first 16 games and 70 overall in 2009-2010. He has heard his name mentioned way too many times for anyone to count in rumors about Dwight Howard.
Other events include playing in three different zip codes (Newark, N.J., East Rutherford, N.J. and Brooklyn) hearing all about the future in Brooklyn and learning about the future home where he would become an All-Star for the first time.
“It’s really been an amazing journey,” Lopez said. “It’s very surreal to think of the power point presentations they’d show us when the management would come in and show us renderings of the Barclays Center and all the those factoids about how big Brooklyn is and all that stuff and everything.
“I can’t wait,” Lopez said. “I’ve been very anxious, waiting for it while playing through these last few games. And now that it’s on the horizon, I’m very excited about it.”
Lopez has a lot to do with why the borough will be hosting its first postseason game since Game 7 of the 1956 World Series. His consistent production is among the reasons why the Nets are hosting their first playoff game since May 18, 2007.
“He’s had an All-Star year,” interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “He’s shooting the ball well from the perimeter, he’s finishing inside and he’s getting to the free-throw line. He’s night and day better defensively, in terms of the way he protects the rim.”
So do his teammates think he’ll be ready to step up for the biggest games of his career?
“Hell yeah,” Reggie Evans said.
Evans has been in the league for 11 years and played with big men such as Blake Griffin, but what he sees from Lopez is a work ethic and focus that makes the Nets fully trust their 2008 first-round pick.
“Brook is showing you everything,” Evans said after Thursday’s practice. “Brook’s a whole different person and when I say that, that’s in a good way. Nobody is stopping him. The only person that can stop Brook is Brook, that’s it. Brook is on a mission.
“His focus is there. He’s there early on game day. His focus in practice is there. His determination is there. So he’s my least concern in being ready. I’ve been kind of prepping him like, ‘Hey man, the atmosphere is going to be different.’ But he ain’t showing me no signs like he’s not ready. He’s ready to step up to the plate.”
Nets playing their best
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is fond of saying you want to be playing your best entering the playoffs. Judging by how the Nets finished the regular season, it seems that they are adhering to Coughlin’s viewpoint.
The Nets won six of their last seven games after losing by two to Chicago on April 4. The loss was one of just six the Nets had in their last 18 games.
“I think we’ve been playing pretty good,” Johnson said. “The ball has been moving great. Guys have been on the same page. At this time of the year when you’re clicking and jelling and that cohesiveness is there, it’s perfect timing for us. So we take some of this momentum into the postseason and try to make something happen.”
In 2006, the Nets won 49 games, the same amount as this year. To reach that point, they peaked in March with a 14-game winning streak and 17 wins in their last 22 games.
There was not one moment where everything seemed to click but if there is one key reason it is health.
Deron Williams has been a different player since taking the week before the All-Star break off to rest his ankles. Joe Johnson has better lift in his heel and during the four-game winning streak that locked up the fourth seed, he shot 27-for-58 (46.5 percent).
“I think everybody is semi-healthy now,” Williams said. “And for the first time in a long time, we have everybody at full strength. So, we are definitely excited about that and feel confident that when we are playing at our highest level, we are tough to beat.”
Williams is so healthy that although the Bulls like to slow things down, he said he plans on attempting to push the pace whenever possible.
“We want to get up and down,” he said. “I think we have to. We can’t just let them set up their defense. If we let them get into a half court game, it’s going to be tough.”
Looking back at Chicago
The Nets and Bulls played four games this season. If you take anything from the regular season into the playoffs, Chicago won three of those four.
But the four games against the Bulls were decided by a combined 21 points and the three losses by the Nets have differing characteristics.
“We’ve been right there and had opportunities,” Lopez said. “I think it could easily be 3-1 the other way. It’s going to be physical, but I think we’re ready for it.”
“That’s going to be a tough series,” Johnson said. “They’re a hard-nosed team, a blue collar team, hard-working and a great defensive team. So we got to be on our P’s and Q’s, hitting on all cylinders. In the playoffs you can’t take a possession off.”
Nobody knows if Derrick Rose will play and so far, the Nets have not practiced anything related to his presence.
“You’re not gonna simulate the things he does,” Carlesimo said. “He was arguably the best player in the league when he last played, but they play so much quicker when he’s on the floor and they’re so much more disruptive defensively. The things Derrick makes happen, you can’t simulate.”
When the Dodgers were making six World Series appearances against the Yankees from 1947-56, the raucous atmosphere at Ebbets Field was highlighted by Hilda Chester’s cowbell and the Dodger “symphony band.”
The Barclays Center is located at the site where Walter O’Malley wanted to build his new stadium and on Saturday night, the Nets are hoping the atmosphere will be just as noisy, but in a different way. In keeping with the theme of black uniforms and black seats in the building, the team is marketing the playoffs by urging fans by calling it a “Blackout in Brooklyn.”
On the front page of their website is a picture of Williams with the words: “Hello Playoffs, Show Your Brooklyn Pride! Represent the Home Team by Wearing Black”
Since the last Nets home playoff game, the Bulls have hosted 17 games and won 11. In the last two years, the Bulls have been the top overall seed.
“Like us, it’s going to be a new experience for the people in the building,” Carlesimo said. “So I think that’s part of it. I think that in New York or Chicago or where they’ve had playoff games before, that experience will be evident. It’ll be evident when we get to the United Center.
“Our fans have been great. I think … it’ll be a fantastic atmosphere. I’ve said all along, we’ve got to give them a reason to make a noise.”
The Nets are also trying to keep the theme of black with their uniforms. They are trying to lobby the league to wear black home jerseys as opposed to the normal white teams wear on their home courts.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher throughout the playoffs.