Before last night's season opener against the Pistons, which the Nets won, 101-98, Avery Johnson said he wanted to see his guys plays hard, get scrappy, not back down on defense, move the ball well on offense and just have some fun. And for the most part, that's just what they did. It all started with Brook Lopez's hard-nose play down in the post, who is clearly the anchor for the Nets. More often than not, the team's halfcourt offense starts through Lopez, and last night he didn't disappoint, scoring 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds. From there, it was the Nets' point guards Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar's leading with their scrappiness on defense, each collecting two steals and creating fastbreak opportunities for their teammates. Then it was the key defensive stops late in the fourth quarter to help the Nets preserve their lead, even after Terrence Williams missed two important free throws with less than two seconds remaining, which would have put the team ahead by five. Then it was the Nets' quick passing in halfcourt sets, which enabled them to be in better position to attack the basket (hence Harris' 22 points) and be open from downtown (hence Harris' nine assists and Anthony Morrow's three three-pointers). And finally it was the smiles from the guys, like Farmar and Williams who connected with each other for scoring opportunities.
More game observations:
Even though the Nets like to dump the ball down to Lopez, they have to be careful to not be so stagnant and move without the ball better. Last night, Lopez had zero assists, and his passing out of the post and double-teams will be critical to the team's success. Also, sometimes Lopez takes too long to do something when he's in the post, as evidenced with his succession of small dribbles while he's backing his man down. Against better defensive teams, it could help if Lopez made quicker moves, so he wouldn't give them time to get into their established position.
The Nets benefit from having Farmar and Williams in their second unit, especially because of their passing abilities. A couple of times, they found each other for the bucket. Also, they both have a lot of confidence, which will rub off on the young Nets team. While Farmar is a point guard, he is always ready to shoot the ball even with a little room, and Williams has no problem operating anywhere on the court. His scoring and playmaking will be big assets to the team, and he'll be a crowd favorite, along with Derrick Favors' dunks, for his knack for hitting offbalanced shots. Speaking of Favors, he was very active around the basket, collecting a team-high 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes of action. Some have been anxious with Favors' play in the preseason, saying the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins would have been a better draft pick, but his production from last night should start putting that anxiety to rest pretty quickly.
Lopez and Kris Humphries set strong screens and work well off the pick-and-roll. They single-handedly helped Harris make three consecutive baskets -- a layup and two jumpshots -- midway through the third quarter to hep the Nets decrease the deficit in the game. Also, Lopez can step out and hit the long-range shot and Humphries has good hands to catch the ball on the roll to the basket and finish strong because of his size.
The one player the Nets really need to see step up is Travis Outlaw, who struggled in the preseason and only had five points last night. The thing is, the first unit's offense right now favors Harris and Lopez and then Morrow for the kick out, which leaves Outlaw on the outside being more of an observer than an option. But the first-year starter can play and can play big, as evidenced with his fourth quarter scoring outputs with the Trail Blazers last year.
Even with the Nets win, keep in mind this: they were without arguably their third best option, Troy Murphy, who is finally back to practicing after a back injury. Expect to see him suit up this Sunday against the Heat, and the Nets to have a consistent double-double threat in their rotation for the rest of the season.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.