HANG TIME, Texas –– Call it the luck of the Nets.
Just when it looks like they could really be building something, all everyone wants to talk about is their building, the futuristic and upscale Barclays Center.
And here in the early weeks of the 2012-13 NBA season, when a 5-2 start is enough to get Jay-Z’s toes tapping, New York and the rest of the league is dancing in amazement at the 6-0 start by the Knicks.
Yet for all that, maybe it’s quite understandable for the Nets to be uncelebrated, because theirs is a lineup that in a celebrity-driven league can go as undetected on the radar.
Deron Williams is a big-time name that belongs up on any marquee. But the trio of Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries has the bland aura of a buttoned-down law firm.
What matters, of course, is winning and the appreciation will overtake the image if the Nets continue to do that. For now, what’s changed is that the relocation to Brooklyn and the new digs has given them a bit of swagger, as was noticed by even the always-swaggering Celtics in Thursday’s loss.
But as was noted by our old friend Filip Bondy in the New York Daily News, there is still plenty of work to be done, especially at the defensive end.
“They have a lot more confidence,” Kevin Garnett noticed, about these new Nets. “They also got a lot of calls tonight.”
It was good to hear an opponent gripe about officiating, rather than smirk at another feeble effort from the home team. And here’s another change from the Jersey era: most fans actually cheered for the Nets in Brooklyn, instead of for the Celtics.
“It was a fantastic environment to play in,” Lopez said. “It hasn’t been like that here in a long time.”
Not everything is perfect. Avery Johnson has yet to completely trust his team’s defense, understandably. He ordered his players to foul the Celtics in the final minute, sending them to the line, rather than let Paul Pierce launch a possible back-breaking three-pointer. Boston missed four foul shots in those waning seconds, rendering the Net coach an accurate soothsayer.
“It was one of the bigger games that we had,” Johnson said. “To win a close game like that without Gerald Wallace means a lot.”
The Nets are now 5-2, while reminding nobody of Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Charles Oakley or even Kenyon Martin. New Yorkers have always worshipped the fine art of stubborn resistance, from shot-blocking to sacrificing the body in the lane. We may have to make some new allowances for these Nets, who are doing things differently.
There will always be areas to improve and nits to pick. What would that matchup with Boston have looked like with Rajon Rondo in the Celtics’ lineup? How far to close that 30-point gap from their first run-in with the defending champion Heat?
It’s enough for now that the Nets are still upright in the Eastern Conference standings, ahead of both Miami and Boston.
Now a three-game road trip to Sacramento, the Lakers and Golden State might provide a few answers about what the Nets can be.
And who they are as well.