The Brooklyn Nets have a huge banner hanging in their practice facility that reads, "It’s Our Time."
The fourth-seeded Nets, who qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2006-07, will open up their first-round series with the fifth-seeded Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
"They’re an excellent team. They beat us three out of four [in the regular season],” said Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who ended up going 35-19 after taking over for Avery Johnson. "They’re experienced. They’re an excellent defensive team and an excellent rebounding team. It’ll be a helluva challenge."
Prior to the start of the season, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who allowed GM Billy King and assistant GM Bobby Marks to acquire $330 million in contracts to upgrade the roster, said a successful first season in Brooklyn would be defined by possibly a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
They’ll have to go through the gauntlet to get there. And it all starts with Chicago.
Despite not having superstar Derrick Rose the entire season, the Bulls managed to amass 45 wins under coach Tom Thibodeau. Chicago is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and thrives by playing a grind-it-out, halfcourt style.
"It’s definitely going to be a tough series," Joe Johnson said. "They’re a hard-nosed team, a blue-collar team, hard-working, great defensive team. So we’ve gotta be on our P's and Q's, man, hitting on all cylinders, because in the playoffs, you can’t take a possession off."
"His situation’s tough," Deron Williams replied when asked about Rose, who had knee surgery on May 12. "He hasn’t played all season, and I think Nate [Robinson] and Kirk [Hinrich] have been doing a good job at the point for them, so it’s all about timing and rhythm and confidence so it’s tough for him right now. But Derrick Rose is a former MVP, so you have to think if he plays, he’s gonna help their team."
The Nets believe they have a great chance of getting past the Bulls because their top three players -- Johnson, Williams and Brook Lopez -- are all healthy and playing well, and they seem to be peaking at the right time.
"This is the first time in a long time we’ve had everybody at full strength," said Williams, who averaged 22.9 points and 8.0 assists after the All-Star break. "We’re definitely excited about that and feel confident that when we’re playing at our highest level, we’re tough to beat."
Johnson reiterated what he feels would define a successful season for the Nets.
"Obviously a championship," he said. "If you don’t win that gold ball, it wasn’t successful. So like I said, we’re gonna take it one series at a time, one game at a time and try to have fun with it."