Morning Brief: The Nets-Lakers Matchup

Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant (AP/Mark J. Terrill)

Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets take on the Los Angeles Lakers. Here’s some quick background on why these teams are connected off the court.

The Brooklyn Nets & Los Angeles Lakers have a significant off-court history, not in spite of the fact that they’re both relatively new teams, but because of it. The Nets relentlessly pursued former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard throughout last season in a saga that can only be understated as “The Dwightmare.” The Nets held confidence throughout the year that they would acquire Howard, based mostly on his anonymously public desire to join the team, as well as his close friendship with Nets star point guard Deron Williams. The Magic, however, had other plans; along with their distaste for Brook Lopez, who was the Nets centerpiece of any Howard deal, the Magic did not seem interested in trading Howard to a team in their own conference or succumbing to Howard’s wishes.

After nearly a year of fruitless attempts, the Nets finally passed on the Howard saga (Deron’s quote to Billy King: “don’t wait on Dwight”) and instead swung a trade for Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson. Shortly after the Nets completed the Johnson trade, effectively removing themselves from the Howard sweepstakes, the Lakers swung a deal for Howard, giving up only two minor pieces and the talented but injury-afflicted Andrew Bynum in the process. (Bynum, who has dealt with significant knee issues to both knees throughout his career, is now out for extended time after injuring his currently healthy knee while, uh, bowling.)

Now, finally removed from the saga, Deron Williams says Dwight was never an option, Dwight says he doesn’t care if he and Deron are friends, and we all die a little more inside watching these two spat off the court about a months-old story. Erstwhile, Nets ex-centerpiece and now-center Brook Lopez is leading the NBA in PER among starting centers and ranks seventh in the NBA in block percentage. (Howard, of course, is the superior player — just noting that Lopez has played above expectations this season.)

Personal issues aside, tonight marks chances. For one, Brooklyn can test its defensive principles against a legitimately great team with a plethora of offensive weapons. Avery Johnson can test out different rotations against what’ll likely be a brand new coach (Former Phoenix Suns & New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is expected, though not guaranteed, to coach his first game for the Lakers tonight). The Nets lack talent comparing the starting fives, but have a distinct advantage on their bench. After getting demolished by the Miami Heat, it’s a chance for the Nets to pull off their ¬°first! significant upset on the road. The Nets probably shouldn’t win this one — but it’s not impossible.

More coverage of tonight’s game coming later today.