Raptors-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King said that he was glad to finally open a training camp without the distraction of trade speculation. He had no idea at the time that the Nets - and the region - would be faced with a significantly greater disruption.

After their Brooklyn debut was postponed by Superstorm Sandy, the Nets become the last team to play a regular-season game - the first at the new Barclays Center - on Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors.

No longer in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard - and with point guard Deron Williams back alongside newcomer Joe Johnson - the Nets' focus has been squarely on winning and snapping a five-year playoff drought.

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"I really feel like this is my first year with the Nets, because each camp before, there was a distraction," King said back in September. "That's the greatest thing. We're preparing for opening night. It's not about the guys who will be here or won't be here. The distractions are gone."

That's definitely not the case now. Instead of playing their much-anticipated season opener against the New York Knicks on Thursday, the Nets were scrimmaging in their new $1 billion home.

A day earlier, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg asked the NBA to postpone the opener. With most public transportation knocked out by Sandy - the Barclays Center is situated above the Atlantic Avenue subway station complex - and with police having "plenty of other things to do," it just wasn't the right time to have a game.

Nets coach Avery Johnson said the postponement was "the right thing to do," but he also admitted Thursday there was some disappointment among the team that the Knicks wouldn't be part of the Nets' first regular-season game since relocating from New Jersey.

New York will instead make its first visit to Brooklyn on Nov. 26.

"I told (the players) before practice today, I said, 'We can't do anything about the game that was supposed to go on tonight. It's all about Toronto,'" said Johnson, whose team is practicing on its home floor because its facility in East Rutherford, N.J., was damaged during the storm.

"We basically practiced a lot against Toronto today and things that they like to do. And that's the best we can do under the circumstances."

Raptors coach Dwane Casey was hoping the Nets would have had a regular-season home game under their belt by the time Toronto arrived because he's expecting an energetic crowd - no matter how many fans can make their way to the arena.

The Nets, who did play three preseason games at the Barclays Center, are Brooklyn's first professional sports team since baseball's Dodgers left in 1957.

"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of pride in the borough of Brooklyn and I think there's going to be a lot of pride in their team," said Casey, whose team opened the season Wednesday with a 90-88 home loss to Indiana.

Casey, though, also said that "if buildings could beat you, I'd be more worried about the building. ... I'm more worried about Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and the team they've put together more so than the building."

Instead of signing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, Williams returned to the Nets after agreeing to a five-year deal. That came one day after the Nets landed Johnson, a six-time All-Star, from Atlanta in a seven-player trade.

Brooklyn's MarShon Brooks and rookie Tyshawn Taylor should see some minutes in the backcourt, but the combination of Williams and the 6-7 Johnson could be a tough matchup if the Raptors play their two point-guard set of Jose Calderon and newcomer Kyle Lowry. Calderon had 15 points on Wednesday while Lowry finished with 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals.

Landry Fields played 24 scoreless minutes in his Raptors debut, but Casey expects bigger things from the former Knick.

Expectations have never been higher for DeMar DeRozan, who signed a four-year, $40 million extension Wednesday. The fourth-year swingman averaged 16.7 points last season but was held to 10 in the opener.

"He's worked hard this summer, he's earned that contract," Casey said. "Now he's gotta come out and work to be the All-Star we're projecting him to be."

The Nets are projected to have one of the top frontcourts in the Eastern Conference after re-signing Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and center Brook Lopez, who played five games last season due to injuries.

Two of Toronto's top big men had solid season debuts. Andrea Bargnani, who missed most of 2011-12 due to injury, scored 16 points. Center Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds to become the first Raptor with a double-double in his NBA debut since Damon Stoudamire in 1995.

These teams split four games last season, each winning once as the visitor.

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