An Opening Night to Remember: Prokhorov Backs Team as Nets Blast Thunder

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

BOTTOM LINE: You know all those preseason predictions, the ones that have the Brooklyn Nets struggling to get out of the first round of the NBA playoffs, or possibly not even make the postseason?

Well, you can stick them in a used paper coffee cup and toss them in a street corner trash basket.

The season is just three games old but the Nets, now 2-1 after crushing the undermanned Oklahoma City Thunder, 116-85, have the look of a team that can make a lot of noise.

And man, was there noise in Barclays Center Monday night for the 2014-15 season opener.

Just before the crowd cheered the return of center Brook Lopez, the thunderous dunks by Mason Plumlee and the rainbow jumpers of Joe Johnson, owner Mikhail Prokhorov was making a statement (or two) of his own to the media.

“I stay committed to the championship," Prokhorov said. “I think if the stars align, we can do this.

“I think last year we have a couple of really bad injuries. We were not very lucky, but I think we were not the only team which suffered from the injury problem. What is good for us, I think, remains our organization that attracts great talent and great fans."

The fans saw a team that showed the Thunder no sympathy. Oklahoma City was without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the core of this Nets team played much of last season without Lopez and Deron Williams.

Lopez had his 2013-14 season ended by a broken right foot. He suffered a mid-foot sprain in the team’s third preseason game and missed the first two games of the regular season.

Williams had surgery on both ankles after the season. He is moving with burst and purpose, leading with his play and voice.

This was a night Nets fans will look back on with pride.

The Empire State Building was lit up in the franchise’s edgy black and white colors.

The Nets' NBA All-Star logo was on the new herringbone court and the players wore the Nets’ All-Star patches on their warm-ups.

Yes, the All-Star 2015 Friday and Saturday night festivities will be held at Barclays Center on February 14 and 15.

By then, the experts might be having a Valentine’s Day love affair with the Nets. And those preseason predictions won’t be worth the price of leftover Halloween costumes.

MERRY CHRISTMAS: Lopez hadn’t played in a regular season game since Dec. 20, 2013. On Sunday, when he got the green light to play against the Thunder, he said it felt like Christmas.

Lopez gave himself, and Nets fans, quite a present. He scored 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 from the line. He grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots.

“I can’t put it in words," Lopez said when asked how he felt to be back. “It was great to be back out there. I’ve missed it for a long time."

NETS' GAINS: Bojan Bogdanovic has struggled as he adjusts to the NBA game. But late in the first quarter, the 6-8 Bogdanovic drained a 3 from the wing, giving the Nets a 29-15 lead.

Bogdanovic had eight points in the first quarter on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, including 2 of 4 on 3s. Coming into the game, Bogie, as his teammates call him, had averaged 4.5 points on 30.8-percent shooting from the field and 16.7-percent on 3s.

He finished with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and a dose of confidence.

KEY PLAY: The Nets were in charge from start to finish, but one play gave fans a thrilling look at what could be.

Kevin Garnett got the ball at the high post with 2:43 left and fed Lopez down low for a thunderous dunk. Lopez was fouled and converted the three-point play. Not many teams have two players such as the 6-11 Garnett and 7-foot Lopez who can play the high-low game.

TALK: Prior to the game, Prokhorov was asked his thoughts on former coach Jason Kidd bolting the Nets for the Milwaukee Bucks after the season. Prokhorov gave the final OK on giving Kidd his first head-coaching job on any level.

“I think there is a nice proverb in English: ‘Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you,’" said Prokhorov. “So, like I think each side did what we thought was the best, and I like what we have now."

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