The New Jersey Nets will have to get used to playing on the 12 season because they're scheduled as the visitor for six of the first eight games, starting with tonight's opener against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center.
New Jersey will roll out a competitive squad this season even though dreams of landing Dwight Howard fell through. The news was even worse when center Brook Lopez suffered a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot during a preseason contest versus the Knicks last week. Lopez is expected to miss the next four to six weeks because of the problem.
"It's tough but it's sports," Nets general manager Billy King said of the Lopez' setback. "It is what it is. I'm just happy that it'll be something that he can recover from and get back on the court and play."
Lopez had played in 246 consecutive games. In an effort to fill the gap that Lopez left, the Nets acquired big man Mehmet Okur from Utah in exchange for a second round draft pick in 2015. Okur owns career averages of 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds in 617 NBA games with Detroit and Utah, and should be a nice piece for point guard Deron Williams. Williams will begin a full season with New Jersey after he came over via trade with the Jazz last season.
The Nets also inked guard DeShawn Stevenson to bolster the bench. He has averaged 7.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 717 career games with Utah, Orlando, Washington and Dallas.
Minutes for Damion James, Kris Humphries and Shelden Williams are expected to increase now that Lopez will be sidelined. New Jersey, which is entering the final season in Newark before moving to Brooklyn, went 24-58 a year ago and hasn't finished with a .500 record or better since going 41-41 in 2006-07, the last time the team reached the playoffs. The Nets are 17-18 all-time on opening night and 6-8 in season openers on the road.
Nets head coach Avery Johnson has a 3-1 mark all-time in season lid-lifters.
Washington is hoping a change to the uniforms will alter the team's play for the upcoming campaign, but isn't expected to do much damage in the Eastern Conference this season.
The Wizards have missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons after four consecutive trips to the postseason. They went 23-59 in 2010-11 and expect a big year from second-year guard John Wall, who led Washington in total points (1,131), assists (574), steals (121) and minutes played (2,606), finishing second to LA Clippers star Blake Griffin in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis can be deadly scorers and the same holds true for Nick Young. Young finished tops for the Wizards in scoring last season with a career-high 17.4 points over 64 games. He also averaged 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists and has the support of upper management.
"Nick is a very good scorer who has continually developed and shown steady improvement over his four years with us," said Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld. "His size, shooting ability and athleticism allow him to get his own shot and compliment our other backcourt players, making him a valuable part of our young core."
Lewis is just 191 points shy of 15,000 career points, while Jordan Crawford and JaVale McGee are two other youngsters on head coach Flip Saunders' roster who have tremendous promise. In 26 games with the Wizards last season, Crawford averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds. Saunders holds an 11-3 career record on opening night. After hosting the Nets in the nation's capital, Washington will play two straight and four of the next five games on the road.
Tonight's game is the first of three meetings between the Wizards and Nets. Washington took two of three matchups with New Jersey last season and has won eight of the previous 10 contests in this series. The Nets are winless in their last four trips to the Verizon Center.
Washington and New Jersey are meeting for only the second time on opening night, while the Nets won the first encounter by a 95-85 score to kick off the 2008-09 campaign in D.C.