“I thought the electricity was [out],” Kidd said.
The players surprised their rookie head coach by mobbing him in the dark before congratulating him with the game ball. After failing to show up in Orlando on Sunday in Kidd’s first game on the sideline, the Nets rebounded and destroyed the Jazz, 104-88.
Even though Kidd was suspended for the first two games of the season and assistant Joe Prunty was the designated head coach, the Nets’ 1-1 record in those games counts on Kidd’s record.
But this was his first taste of victory while on the sideline. And there will be plenty more victories if his young and ascending center plays like he did on Tuesday. Brook Lopez dominated the Jazz with 27 points and seven rebounds in an efficient 25 minutes.
Kidd got the game ball, but the real prize is his 7-foot big man. When Kidd was hired as coach, one of the first things the former point guard pointed to on his roster was Lopez.
Kidd, who longed to play with a 7-foot force during his prime, inherited a luxury few coaches in the NBA have. He has a 25-year-old All-Star center entering his prime and just scratching the surface of how good he can be. And Lopez is surrounded by a starting unit that has Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson.
Williams, Pierce and Garnett justifiably garner most of the attention. But if Williams is the engine that runs the Nets, Lopez is the team’s horsepower.
Lopez is the piece that even the two-time champs lack. The Miami Heat don’t have an interior offensive force like Lopez. That's why they are taking a chance on Greg Oden. The Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have more defensive-oriented big men.
The Nets, though, have a 7-footer who is averaging 20.5 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Lopez can and should keep those numbers up this season with this kind of roster around him.
Sure, he could rebound better, and his low-post game could be more polished. And he isn’t the most athletic or mobile center. But there aren’t any Shaqs, Olajuwons or Ewings residing in the Eastern Conference, or in the entire league for that matter.
With Williams, Pierce, Garnett and Johnson all able to play off him and get him the ball, Lopez will get his share of easy baskets this season and make life easier for the Nets and Kidd.
Garnett has called the Stanford product the most talented center he has ever played with. “I think a lot of people take his demeanor to be really relaxed,” Garnett said. “I don’t want to say lackadaisical, but it is very conservative. He is a really chill person, but he has a fire. He has a quiet fire."
“He plays really poised basketball,” Garnett continued. “He seems to always be under control. Very strong. I am not going to say [Lopez is] underestimated but he’s very strong and able to go through plays and finish them very well. Probably the best I’ve seen in the league in a while.”
It’s no wonder Kidd put his players through their toughest practice on Monday since the first few days of training camp at Duke University, with the emphasis on getting the ball inside.
After seeing the Nets get blown out 107-86 in Orlando on Sunday, in a game in which they shot just 38.2 percent, Kidd wanted to reinforce the huge advantage his team has over so many others in the NBA. So he had his players go through a practice in which the only way they could score was to do so inside.
When the Nets’ outside shots aren’t falling –- and there will be times when that happens, despite the considerable firepower they have -- they can and need to play through Lopez.
“A lesson learned,” Kidd said. “And we bounced back.”
Turns out the Orlando debacle was probably a good thing. One game after toppling the Heat, the Nets were humbled by the lowly Magic. And it allowed Kidd to give his team a not-so-subtle reminder about how they will win several games this season –- getting the ball inside to Lopez.
The Nets celebrated Kidd’s first true victory by turning out the lights in the locker room. But Kidd will likely remember his first win for a long time because of how electric his center was.