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The Nets all over the Knicks as NBA season begins

Richard G. Carter | 6/6/2013, 3:39 p.m.
"Like old Mama said, the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"Like old Mama said, the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing."--James Coburn, "Hard Times" (1980)

The city game--aka pro hoops--has finally arrived after month after month of boring baseball. And what better way than an opening night match between the dynamic, new Brooklyn Nets and the doddering, old New York Knicks?

Yes, the 2012-2013 National Basketball Association season comes to town tonight at the spanking-new $1-billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In its first month, the state-of-the art arena has hosted Jay-Z and Barbara Streisand concerts, a boxing card of multiple championship fights and an appearance by the legendary Harlem Globetrotters. But Nov. 1 is the real deal, and here's the operative question: Can this new, inter-borough team rivalry develop into Yankees vs. Mets or Giants vs. Jets? Perhaps. But for now, tonight's nationally televised game is hogging the sports spotlight all across the country. That's because we are the basketball capital of America and everyone knows it.

The new-look Nets--in bad-ass black-and-white uniforms--were voted the most improved team in the NBA by its 30 general managers. They feature a fine first five of Deron Williams (28), Joe Johnson (31), Brook Lopez (24), Kris Humphries (27) and Gerald Wallace (30) and a deep, talented bench. Barring injuries, there's no doubt they'll be one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, the decrepit Knicks--whose average age of 32.8 is oldest in NBA history--enter the season with more question marks than a pop quiz. Can Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire co-exist? Can the departed Jeremy Lin be replaced? Can fat boy Raymond Felton stop eating? Can bad boy Rasheed Wallace and flaky J.R. Smith stop acting out? Can doofus owner James Dolan stop being a goofball? Hmm.

Let's begin by taking a brief look at both teams as presently constituted. Each broke even in the meaningless preseason with 3-3 records, as coaches Avery Johnson of the Nets and Mike Woodson of the Knicks predictably experimented with different lineups.

First, the Nets, Brooklyn's first big league sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957 for Los Angeles. Right off the bat, their new venue, the Barclays Center, puts Manhattan's old Madison Square Garden to shame, regardless of the latter's renovation.

The Nets' stellar backcourt--led by NBA All-Stars Williams and Johnson--is seen by many as the best in the league. The dynamic duo is backed up by talented second-year-man MarShon Brooks, veterans C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans, and Tyshawn Taylor, a promising rookie. Lopez, a high-scoring 7-foot center, has recovered from last year's broken foot and mononucleosis of two years ago and is primed for a breakout season.

Despite salary cap issues that lost jumping-jack Gerald Green to the Indiana Pacers, the front court bench is deep. Included are flashy Andray Blatche, rugged Reggie Evans, smooth Josh Childress and rookies Mirza Teletovic and Toko Shengalia. Wily veteran Jerry Stackhouse--who is certain to be a coach in the future--is also available.

The 6-foot-9 Teletovic of Bosnia--the Euroleague's top scorer--and 6-foot-8 free agent Evans will spell rebounding machine Humphries at power forward. Hard-nosed 20-year-old Russian rookie Shengelia and the veteran Childress back up Wallace.