That changed Friday night.
Yes, for the first time in a very long time, all three members of Brooklyn’s “Big Three” played All-Star caliber basketball in the same game, at the same time. And the results spoke for themselves.
Which leads to the obvious question: How good can the Nets be if Williams, Lopez and Johnson stay healthy?
The trio combined for 67 points in the Nets' 110-99 victory over the rival New York Knicks at Barclays Center.
“When we’re all playing well, it opens up the floor for everybody,” Johnson said. “There’s no game plan for that. You can’t double the pick-and-roll or Brook rolling. We played a pretty decent game tonight.”
Williams was the best player on a court that also featured Carmelo Anthony, posting 29 points and six assists in 33 minutes. He got to the basket at will, abusing Knicks defensive stopper Iman Shumpert.
“Deron was our spark plug tonight,” Lopez said of Williams.
Lopez bounced back after being outplayed by Nikola Pekovic on Wednesday to post 20 points and nine boards. The Knicks had no one who could guard Lopez, and he made them pay on the interior.
“I came in confident,” Lopez said. “I knew I wasn’t going to shoot or play defense the way I did last game.”
Johnson added 18 points and helped hold Anthony to just 5-for-20 shooting. Anthony had averaged 33 points in his previous three games at Barclays Center.
“I don’t mind it,” Johnson said of having to guard tough wings like Anthony. “It’s just a little extra work and effort that I try to put in defensively and knowing that you are going up against a lot of leading scorers in the league. You really have to pay attention to them each and every possession.”
Since 2012-13, when Johnson joined Williams and Lopez in Brooklyn, the three of them have combined to miss 107 games. Friday night's game was a rarity -- Williams, Lopez and Johnson all healthy, all playing up to their massive contracts.
But it also provided a glimpse of what could be if they keep it up.
As a team, the Nets (3-2) shot 51.4 percent from the field, 14-for-24 from 3-point range, and led by as many as 22 points.
Remember when Johnson said he felt the Nets were better than the Knicks, and that was a big deal? Well, it isn’t at this very second.
Brooklyn's veteran-laden squad is trying to win now, while its Manhattan counterparts are just trying to learn Phil Jackson/Derek Fisher’s triangle offense and hoping for better days on the horizon.
The Nets need Williams, Lopez and Johnson to play this way through the 82-game regular season and into the summer. If so, they could be dangerous come playoff time.
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” Johnson said when asked how good the Nets can be if their Big Three stay healthy. “Obviously, that hasn’t been the case in my three years here, so we just wanna take it one game at a time, keep guys healthy, and we’ll see what happens.”
Said Williams: “Who knows? I guess we’ll see in June.”