When the Washington Wizards and the New Jersey Nets open their 2008-09 NBA season tonight at 8pm, the circumstances will be quite different than they were when these teams last met on December 28th of last year.
When these two teams last met, the Nets still had the “Big Three” of Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, but that did not seem to be enough. Kidd showed signs of slowing down, and Carter and Jefferson were brilliant at times, and then inconsistent at others. No one else on the team seemed capable of helping the “Big Three,” and at that point the Nets had a record of 12-16.
On the other side of the floor, the Washington Wizards were a 14-13 team at the time, and they were adjusting to playing without not one, but two point guards. Gilbert Arenas was out with serious knee surgery and his replacement, backup point guard Antonio Daniels, was out with an sprained knee. Forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were left to do the heavy lifting, and at that point in the season, none of the younger player had stepped up consistently to assist them.
Things have changed for both squads since then.
For the Nets, Carter has gone from being a part of a “Big Three,” to playing the role of leader. Veterans like Kidd and Jefferson have been replaced with veterans named Devin Harris and Stromile Swift. Promising young players like guard Marcus Williams have been shipped out and replaced by new young talents like rookie Chris Douglas-Roberts out of Memphis, rookie Brook Lopez out of Stanford, and second year player Yi Jianlian was brought in from Milwaukee. The team has gone from a stagnant, aging team to a younger, quicker team that will be looking to surprise teams in the East.
For the Wizards, they are some elements that remain the same. Arenas is still out with an injury, and Jamison and Butler will still be asked to the majority of the scoring. However, the younger players will no longer be able to use their youth as a scapegoat. Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and rookie JaVale McGee will be expected to contribute right away, with Arenas and center Brendan Haywood out for an substantial period of time.
In addition to the youngsters, the Wizards will also look to veteran point guard Antonio Daniels, newly signed guard Juan Dixon and Etan Thomas who is returning from heart surgery.
Both teams are coming off very different endings to their preaseason.
The Nets defeated the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 111-110 in a game that saw both the starters and the reserves play significant minutes. Their record in preseason was 3-4.
“There are a lot of good things that happened,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. “It’s good lessons because you’re on the road, team’s obviously going to make a run back and it’s learning how to play through mistakes and not letting mistakes multiply, not letting momentum take over the game.”
Conversely, the Wizards ended their preseason by getting blown out, 107-80, by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards committed 15 turnovers and shot a dismal 38% from the field. Despite this shaky end to the preseason, Coach Eddie Jordan remains upbeat and optimistic about the upcoming regular season.
“We’ve had this group together,” Jordan said. “We’ve gone through trials and tribulations and playoffs. If you have to take your lumps to get to the next level, hopefully we have our team together to give our greatest performance.”
The first step towards that next level for both teams begins at tipoff tonight.