By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As far as dress rehearsals go, this one had all the makings of a long-running hit on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
A full-throated crowd of 14,219 Brooklynites earned the right to say they saw the Nets play their first-ever game in Brooklyn, albeit an exhibition contest against the Washington Wizards, on Monday night.
From the opening tip, which unofficially ended our borough's 55-year drought without a pro sports franchise, to the final buzzer of an impressive 98-88 victory, Nets fans, decked out in the franchise's brand new black-and-white color scheme, rocked the Barclays Center from points high and low in the state-of-the-art arena, which will host its first-ever regular-season affair come Nov. 1 against the East River rival Knicks.
"It was absolutely fantastic," gushed Nets center Brook Lopez, who led five players in double figures for the "home team" with 18 points and 11 rebounds. "I couldn't help but smile most of the time. The fans brought a lot of energy. The arena was alive the whole time. It was really fun for us to be out there playing."
The fun began moments before tip-off when Brooklyn's-own Debra Deane brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing version of the national anthem. The opening tip, which was won by Washington center Emeka Okafor, kicked off what promises to be an historic era in our borough's sporting history.
For the record, Kris Humphries, the Nets' newly re-signed power forward, was the first Brooklyn player to tickle the twine at Barclays, making a layup off a brilliant feed from his $100 million point guard, Deron Williams, 90 seconds into the game.
Thirty seconds later, Joe Johnson, the six-time All-Star shooting guard general manager Billy King acquired from Atlanta this past summer, drained the first of two first-quarter 3-pointers, making the arena rumble with approval for the first time.
Chants of "Defense!, Defense!", rained down from the top tiers throughout the night, and there was even a small wave orchestrated by the upper-deckers early in the second quarter.
After years of playing before sparse, disinterested crowds in East Rutherford and Newark during five straight non-playoff campaigns, the Nets were all blown away by the instant home-court advantage they've inherited in Downtown Brooklyn.
"Our fans were terrific. Oh gosh!" said Nets coach Avery Johnson. "It was just good to get a win [being] in our home for the first time. When we get even more people in the building, it's going to be crazy."
"I thought the crowd was great, especially for a preseason game," noted Williams, who brought a bit of Brooklyn beef to the evening late in the fourth quarter when he collided with, then aimed a few unpleasantries at Wizards guard A.J. Price, a Long Island native who had 20 friends and family members in the house for the historic opener.
The brief skirmish resulted in double technicals and a wide smile from Williams.
"[Price] kept saying he was home. I told him it was my home now," Williams, who finished with 11 points and nine assists in his Downtown debut, said with a smirk.
Lopez, who has flourished as the centerpiece of Brooklyn's heralded starting five through two exhibition games, credits the Nets' eagerness to mesh as the main reason for their early preseason success.
"I think it's been great," said the 7-footer out of Stanford. "We really clicked together. I think that's a tribute to being here early, about three weeks before training camp started. We got to know the guys on and off the court and that's paying dividends right now."
For Avery Johnson, who had become almost numb to the constant losing in New Jersey over the past two seasons, the night signified the dawn of a new era in Nets basketball.
"We had a lot of long nights dreaming about what our roster could look like," said the raspy-voiced coach. "We don't have to be the best individuals this year. We have to be the best team."
The Nets' depth was also in full evidence as backup center Andray Blatche, a former Wizard, lit up his old teammates for 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
"We are a work in progress, but there were a lot of positives in the second half," Avery Johnson said.
While the Nets continue to mold and shape what they hope will be a legitimate NBA title contender over the next few weeks, Brooklyn fans proved they already know how to defend their home court.
"I think this atmosphere is going to be great come Nov. 1 and hopefully for the rest of the year," Williams said.
Ironically, it was a visiting player, Washington's Trevor Ariza, who may have summed up the energy in the spanking new arena best by night's end.
"I think this city of Brooklyn is a proud city," said the Miami native and former UCLA star. "They back anything that comes from their city. They rep it. They love it. It's their heart."
Hoop du Jour: The Nets' new weekly reality series, "The Association", was scheduled to make its debut Tuesday night on NBATV at 10 p.m. ... F Gerald Wallace was the only Net starter not to score in double figures as he finished with seven points. ... F Humphries had 11 points and five boards and G Joe Johnson added 14 points and five assists. ... Veteran G Jerry Stackhouse, who underwent acupuncture treatments last week in the hopes of alleviating a bothersome knee condition, did not play Monday. ... Super lightweight champion Danny "Swift" Garcia, who will fight Erik Morales in the headliner of Saturday night's first-ever boxing card at Barclays, was in the house Monday getting a feel for the home of his title defense. Garcia, Morales and Brooklyn's own Paulie Malignaggi will be at the Brooklyn Marriott on Thursday for the final pre-fight press conference before Friday's weigh-in. ...The Nets were scheduled to visit Boston Tuesday night, and will meet the Celtics again on Thursday in a game that will be televised on TNT.