NEWARK (AP) – After struggling through seasons they would probably prefer to forget, the Detroit Pistons and New Jersey Nets are realistic about their chances in a competitive Eastern Conference.
With modest goals, the Nets and Pistons open their 2010-11 seasons Wednesday night in Newark.
New Jersey and Detroit were two of the worst teams in the East last season, but for the Nets, it was a particularly bad campaign.
They lost their first 18 games before finishing 12-70, leading to an overhaul under new owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Billy King replaced Rod Thorn as general manager and Avery Johnson has taken over as coach.
New Jersey also moved out of the Izod Center and into the Prudential Arena in Newark.
However, the changes weren’t enough to lure a big free agent. New Jersey was turned down by LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carlos Boozer while an attempt to trade for Carmelo Anthony also fell through.
The Nets weren’t completely shut out in free agency, signing Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow. Farmar spent the last four years with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning two rings while averaging 6.9 points. Outlaw and Morrow are expected to be in Wednesday’s starting lineup.
Derrick Favors, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, will likely begin the season off the bench.
“I would say from when we started Sept. 25, we’ve made major strides,” Johnson said. “Not enough to be a very good basketball team, but we’ve made some strides.”
While New Jersey, which returns only four players from last season’s team, acknowledges it probably doesn’t have the talent to compete with the top clubs in the conference, it does expect to improve.
One of the players expected to be key in making that happen is Brook Lopez, who was one of the few bright spots last season after leading the Nets with 18.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“I really don’t want to compare this team to last year’s team, but we are improving very well and becoming a real team,” Lopez said. “Since we started camp, we’ve had a lot of guys improve tremendously. I’m sure we’ll be a better team this year in terms of wins. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Although he was the subject of trade rumors over the summer, Devin Harris is back and looking to rebound after a disappointing year.
Harris had the best season of his career in 2008-09, averaging 21.3 points and 6.9 assists while making the All-Star team as a reserve. However, the 27-year-old was limited to 64 games last season due to injuries and averaged 16.9 points while shooting a career-worst 40.3 percent.
“Forgive, forget, and be ready to move on,” Harris said.
That also could be the motto of the Pistons.
Detroit went 27-55 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. The 27 wins were its fewest since going 20-62 in 1993-94.
The Pistons are hoping they’ve improved, although after struggling with injuries last season, they’ll be counting on an aging lineup to have enough left to compete with expected Central Division front-runners Chicago and Milwaukee.
Richard Hamilton was limited to a career-low 46 games last season because of hamstring and ankle issues. Ben Wallace, who turned 36 last month, played in 69 games and Tayshaun Prince was in the lineup for 49 games because of back and knee problems.
The Pistons signed Tracy McGrady in the offseason as he tries to boost a career that has been marred by injuries. McGrady played 30 games last season for Houston and New York, averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists in 22.5 minutes per game.
“It’s not like I’m 41 or even 35,” McGrady said after signing a one-year, $1.3 million contract in August. “I just turned 31. No one has come down and stolen away my talent – I still have a lot in the tank.”
Detroit is also counting on a better season from Ben Gordon, who made 17 starts due to injuries and was held to a career-low 13.8 points per game.
If they can stay healthy, the Pistons believe they should improve defensively. In 2009-10, Detroit gave up 99.1 points per game for its most allowed since 1999-2000, when opponents averaged 102.0. It was in stark contrast to the previous nine seasons when the Pistons had the East’s top scoring defense, allowing 90.9 points per game.
“There’s no question we’ve gotten better, but there is a lot of room for improvement still,” coach John Kuester told the Pistons’ official website.
Detroit won two of three against New Jersey last season and has taken 11 of the last 14 meetings.
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