Posts Tagged ‘London’

London Trip Does Wonders For Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When Nets coach Avery Johnson was gushing about his team’s London excursion and how important it was for them to get that unique time away from their normal surroundings, it would have been easy to assume it was just a coach trying to say all the right things for the benefit of his audience.

But Johnson wasn’t just putting on a show for those of us media members in attendance. He was serious about the opportunity that historic trip to London — for two “home” games against the Toronto Raptors at 02 Arena, the first NBA regular-season games played on European soil — provided his new-look team. All-Star point guard Deron Williams was just days into his tenure with the Nets after coming over in a deal with the Jazz at the trade deadline.

Something clicked for the Nets over there, because they haven’t lost a game since that first win over the Raptors in London. They’ve rattled off five straight wins, including last night’s stunner over the Celtics in Newark.

There has even been mention of the playoffs (don’t laugh, the Nets have not been mathematically eliminated yet), chatter that would have seemed ridiculous weeks ago when the Nets were neck-deep in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.

Now they’ve won five straight for the first time since  January of 2008. Johnson was stoked to knock off the struggling Raptors in back-to-back games in London, the second a triple-overtime thriller that seemed like anything but a battle of teams with win totals in the teens. So you’d expect him to be fired up after guiding his team to a win over the mighty Celtics.

“The last couple of games, obviously, we beat two teams that were under .500 (Golden State and the L.A. Clippers),” Johnson told Colin Stephenson of the Star-Ledger. “But now you’ve got the team that’s basically the best team in the East coming in, and it’s exciting. I’m excited for our guys.”

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Let’s Do This Again!

LONDON – You know you’re a hit when the coach whose team lost back-to-back regular season games walks out of the building touting how much his team learned from their experience.

What the Nets and Raptors did Saturday night, though, goes above and beyond what anyone expected, even from a celebrated guest like the NBA. Two teams with a combined 35 wins before the night started, played the craziest (in a good way) and best regular season game of this NBA season.

That they did on the back-end of a historic, back-t-back set — the first regular season games played on European soil — only made it that much sweeter for the sellout crowd that piled into the splendid 02 Arena on this magnificent cities’ eastern edge. And yes, that would be the same crowd that rose to its feet in unison and gave both teams a standing ovation before the final 12.6 seconds of the third and final overtime was played.

“Hats off to the NBA … because I think it’s a huge success,” exhausted Nets coach Avery Johnson said of the European experiment. “This is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of … If you look at this crowd, the last two nights, I didn’t see an empty seat in the building. They were into the game and we provided them to two thrilling nights of basketball.”

Indeed!

And fans from all over the continent found their way here for the weekend. I know this because I had the pleasure of shaking hands and taking pictures with many of them before, during and after both games. They came from all over. Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, just to name a few, were all represented. There were men, women and children. Fans of the teams specifically but mostly fans of the NBA game. They wanted to be a part of the experience.

Still, none of us expected to see the triple overtime thriller we all witnessed on this night.

“Hopefully, every time we come through London we’re the home team here,” said Nets power forward Kris Humphries, who showed off with 38 points and 35 rebounds in two games, much to the delight of the crowd. “It feels good. It’s been great here, a great experience. Thanks to all the people that made this happen.”

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Nets, Raptors Truly Going Global

LONDON – New Jersey’s team? Sure.

But the Nets fancy themselves as so much more these days. They’re quickly becoming the world’s team in the NBA, having played preseason games in China this season, after conducting a basketball clinic in Russia, home of their billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Now they’re just hours away from making history as part of the first NBA regular season games to be played on soil outside of North America, tonight and Saturday here at London’s O2 Arena.

They’ve seen the Kremlin, the Great Wall and now Buckingham Palace all before St. Patrick’s Day, cementing the Nets as true citizens of the world.

“Hey, we’re a global team,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “And I don’t think it’s the last time [you'll see us do this]. But Prokhorov has added that dynamic to our franchise. It was great to go to Russia and spend some time with him. It was great to go to China and play two preseason games and give back to that community. And now here we are in London, pretty much with the same game plan. This is where we are right now and there is really nothing to complain about. [NBA Commissioner] David Stern had this vision a long time ago and now to see it happening is great for our fans, especially for our fans abroad.”

Their counterparts staring back at them in this historical contest?

The Toronto Raptors, who truly embody the spirit of the league’s Basketball Without Borders mantra, boasting six players on their roster that hail from foreign lands. Raptors coach Jay Triano participated in BWB Africa last summer in Dakar, Senegal.

“I’m not sure you could have picked two better teams to represent the league when you look at it from that standpoint,” said Raptors’ big man Solomon Alabi. A native of Nigeria, Alabi is one of three Raptors to participate in the Basketball Without Borders program before joining the league as players. Andrea Bargnani (Italy) and Alexis Ajinca (France) are the others.

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Raptors Expecting Diverse Turnout

LONDON – The location doesn’t matter to Raptors point guard Jose Calderon.

London. Paris. Berlin. Barcelona. Athens.

Wherever NBA teams play, he said, the game’s true fans will follow. That’s why he’s expecting a raucous and robust crowd for Friday’s Nets-Raptors game here at the 02 Arena, the front end of a weekend doubleheader that wraps up Saturday with a rematch of Friday’s contest.

Calderon has heard from friends and family back home in Spain who have made plans to make the trek here to see not only him but also the first NBA regular season games played somewhere other than North America.

“It’s exciting for us because this is the first time the NBA has done this,” Calderon said. “This is close to my house. For the people who cannot afford to fly to the U.S. or to Toronto, this is as good as you can get. If you love NBA basketball better, there is nothing better. For these kind of games, wherever you put the game, it’s going to be packed. And it won’t just be people from London. I know a lot of people in Spain and I know there are people coming from there and people coming from Italy to support [Raptors big man] Andrea [Bargnani]. If you are a NBA fan and you can come to London, it’s a nice city and it’s great to visit and you have the games. So it’s an excuse to enjoy both.”

Calderon joked that this wasn’t even a distant dream of his as recently as two seasons ago. Like most everyone else, the idea of two teams making the trip from the U.S. here seemed like a logistical nightmare.

“I’m excited to be a part of this and to be doing something different,” Calderon said. “And I don’t think it matters what two teams you brought over here and where you had them play. If there are two teams from the NBA playing a game anywhere near you, people are going to be excited about it. That’s why we all want to go out there and put on a good show.”

Williams Says He’ll Play Friday

LONDON – A day of rest must have done wonders for Nets point guard Deron Williams.

A day after rumors swirled about his availability for Friday’s game here at the 02 Arena against the Raptors, he made it clear that he will indeed be ready to go.

“I’m playing,” he said after the Nets wrapped up their Thursday morning practice at the arena. “I’m definitely playing tomorrow.”

Williams has a bone bruise in his left wrist and the strained tendon in his right wrist. But he said he felt rested a lot better today than he did the day before.

Nets New Star In Need Of Rest

LONDON – Any fears about the availability of Deron Williams for Friday and Saturday’s Nets-Raptors games here are legitimate. Williams has two sore wrists and could use some rest.

But he’s tried that already and it hasn’t done much to improve his condition. He didn’t practice here Wednesday, using that time instead to get treatment on the bone bruise in his left wrist and the strained tendon in his right wrist.

“I don’t know yet,” Williams said on a conference call Wednesday when asked about his availability for Friday night’s game here at the 02 Arena. “[I'll have to] see how things feel. I really don’t have either hand right now, so it’s tough.”

Still, it’s hard to keep a competitor like Williams off the floor. And he knows the Nets traded for him so he could lead them, not watch from the bench. That’s why he played through the pain during his first three games with the Nets, piling up 47 assists in those three losses. But a long flight from the states and the jet lag that comes with it can work overtime on the body when you are healthy, so you can imagine what it does to one that’s battered and bruised.

“I need more than a couple games,” Williams said. “I’ve done a couple games. I did eight days. I came back and I hurt it again and it felt like Day 1 again. Like I said, I need about three weeks, four weeks.”

Nets coach Avery Johnson said Williams be ready for Friday, so everyone will have to wait and see what transpires between now and then. But if I had to guess, Williams will be in uniform and ready to go.

As he said, the Nets didn’t trade for him to “sit out.”