by Jake Appleman and Russ Bengtson

Pregame:

I arrive first, so Jake’s first words can wait. Brendan Byrne Arena—I mean Continental Airlines Arena—has been re-branded The IZOD Center. And by re-branded I mean RE-BRANDED. They probably could have fit bigger logos on the arena, but they would have had to give it extensions first. As Lang points out, with the intertwined “IZ” logo and the red-and-white color scheme, you’d think we were in Bloomington. Hey, Lawrence Frank got his start at IU, right? He should start wearing a sweater and throwing things. I’d also be curious to know how Brendan Byrne himself feels about all of this, seeing that he’s still alive. Also, the mysterious Xanadu project is threatening to swallow all of the greater Meadowlands area.

Nat Butler/NBA photos

–I take the bus from Port Authority and don’t look up the entire time because I’m busy breaking my record score on “Brick”, one of the games on my Ipod. 444, in case you were wondering.

–When we finally roll up on the IZOD center—good grief, this is going to take some time getting used to—blue lights are being beamed up into the sky and the much of the area leading into the arena is covered with red carpet. This is what it must feel like at the Golden Globes. The combination of red and blue is very disorienting. I was always taught not to mix primary colors, but whatever.

–Ten years ago, I got an Izod polo shirt. It was quality and very durable. However, back then, IZOD was never an in-brand like Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren. I remember, as a 14 year-old, specifically not letting anyone know that I was wearing IZOD because my middle school had fashion police and they would have arrested me. So, in conclusion, good job, Nets. Maybe now, there’s a eighth grader that feels comfortable wearing IZOD instead of Rocawear because the brand sponsors his favorite team’s arena. But if you’re a clothing company that plasters its name across an ugly façade, what does that say about your own aesthetic standards. Exactly.

Both locker rooms are quiet. Ben Wallace has his headband on already (wonder if he wore it all summer), Joakim Noah is doing interviews half in French, half in English. Talking about building courts on land his family owns in Africa. The Nets side has an entirely different layout this year—the trainers room and the lounge have switched places—and apparently the whole locker room is now sponsored by Wrigleys. More specifically, Big Red. There are huge Big Red stickers on every locker. Lang asks Sean Williams, who’s sitting on the floor, what would happen if they took them off, and Williams says he’s not gonna be first to find out.

–I realize I missed my opportunity to wear a Jason mask in the Nets media room, and I’m kinda bummed.

Food report: Chicken doused in sauce of some kind and what appear to be blackened sesame seeds, penne with red sauce, some sort of cauliflower/broccoli mix. The chicken is pretty good, the pasta is oddly tasteless, and you’d have to ask someone else about the cauliflower. This is not the way you start a season. C. Thank God for the hot dogs.

The Lucious Harris Memorial Exercise Bike is still out there alongside the stands where the players enter. They should really put a plaque on it or something.

Freddie Jackson sings the National Anthem. Lang is the most excited he’s been in his life this week.

The Nets run down out of the stands when they’re introduced. Fireworks, marching band (whose opening measures are oddly atonal), the whole nine. Thankfully, no one falls. And Jason Collins doesn’t foul anyone.

Benny Two T’s in the house.

And we’re off. In smoke.

First Quarter

Bulls starters: Deng, Thomas, Hinrich, Wallace, Gordon

Nets starters: Kidd, Jefferson, Carter, Jefferson, Krstic

–On the first possession of the game the Bulls throw it into Tyrus “project jumpway” Thomas. Nenad Kristic—who is clearly at a physical disadvantage here—makes the smart veteran play, using quick hands to knock the ball off of TT’s leg out of bounds. Good strategy for an overmatched big man coming off of ACL surgery.

–The Nets’ first possession doesn’t exhibit the motion that they talked about incorporating during the preseason. J-Kidd uses his size advantage to back Ben Gordon down and kicks it to Vince Carter who bricks a contested jumper.

4-all early on. Gordon picks up an early foul, Hinrich already has one (I feel like he started the game with it). They also have two points apiece.

–Jason Collins has taken his hair out of the cornrows. The fro is in full effect. The big hair makes him look more athletic because it makes his body look smaller. It also appears that he stole Huey Freeman’s hair from The Boondocks.

–3 minutes in the Bulls have 4 turnovers. In fairness, they are playing 5 on 6. Jersey’s sixth defender is Kobe Bryant.

Tyrus Thomas commits his second foul, and is taken out for Joe Smith. That was fast. Rookie Joakim Noah is out with an ankle injury. They are both not immediately traded for Kobe Bryant.

–The Nets have been getting out on the break and the Bulls have been slow to react. The quick leak outs are resulting in trips to the line, as the Nets have taken 8 free throws in 5 minutes.

Jason Collins earns a jump ball with Kirk Hinrich by tackling him underneath the basket. What? If that wasn’t over the back, I’m not sure what is.

–At the 6:10 mark, Ben Wallace spins on Nenad Kristic for an easy layup. Not expecting it is one thing; not expecting it and not being able to make up ground laterally is whole ‘nother thing.

Nets commit their second defensive three seconds with 7:12 to go in the first quarter.

Kirk gets hit with a BS foul call on a long pass to Jefferson, who really plays it up. Not that I’m biased or anything. Exit Kirk, enter Thabo Sefolosha.

Incidentally, the scoreboards on either end of the arena that track individual player points and fouls are out. Which is nice, considering it’s the FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON. The huge GOYA logo/ad in the middle works fine, though. Which is weird. Someone call Izod!

Maybe it’s just me, but Joe Smith looks a lot like Tupac. “If Tupac lived to be 60,” Lang adds.

Jay-Z and Chris Rock in the house. Among others.

–The Donald is in the house. Ugh.

The Snackbar Cometh. 4:57 in the 1st. Nocioni’s in, too, looking a little shaggy.

Jamal Magloire’s in the game as well. I know this because he just collided with Joe Smith, sending him into the Bulls bench.

–Jamal Magloire picks up two fouls in a 14 second span during his first minute of regular season action. Immediately thereafter, Andres Nocioni gets called for a charge. So that’s 3 fouls in 19 seconds and two offensive fouls in 5 seconds for those scoring at home. I LOVE THIS GAME.

–After an inauspicious start that featured some habitat for humanity-esque brick-laying and a lack of aggression—partial credit to Chicago’s defense—Vince Carter, in successive possessions, hits a reverse layup in traffic and takes it strong to the hole, earning a trip to the stripe. Nice to have you with us tonight, Vince.

My take of the first possession above: Vince Carter. Drive, acrobatic layup, loud appeal to refs. Um, you hit the shot, Vince.

–Joakim Noah is in street clothes. In case you were wondering, the street is somewhere in Williamsburg.

–Today’s SAT word of the day is sinewy. As in, Joe Smith, who Russ notes looks kind of like Tupac, has a sinewy frame.

–Magloire grabs a big offensive board in traffic, surrounded by 3 Bulls. That didn’t happen last year.

Nocioni flop, Antoine Wright offensive foul.

Then, on the next Nets possession, Noc’s shorts foul Boki. The Snackbar is given two shots. No, yes. Nets by five.

The Snackbar with the long two, a Bulls miss (Joe Smith!), and Snackbar misses another long jumper. Nets reset leads to a deep Antoine Wright airball with 10 seconds in the quarter.

Time enough. Duhon hits a corner three, the Nets can’t get a last shot. 25-21 Nets after 1. The Bulls shot 8-21, Gordon was 1-6. $50 million!

–You can talk all you want about Jamal Magloire, but it says here that replacing generic metrosexual timeout MC (“Showboat”) with urban metrosexual timeout MC (Marco G) was the Nets’ biggest offseason move.

Second Quarter

Trampoline dunks first. Lang thinks it’s a new Sly. “Look at his legs! Look how skinny they are!” Um, OK.

Hinrich and Thomas are back for the start of the 2nd quarter.

Darrell Armstrong for three. 28-21. The Bulls lose it underneath, leading to a Tyrus-Vince jumpball. Tyrus gets it. Reset. Armstrong fouls Hinrich on the perimeter. Reset. Duhon wrap pass to no one, and Bill Wennington (doing Bulls radio two seats away) slams down his pen in disgust. The Bulls retain possession, though. Tyrus Thomas gets a couple of chances underneath, but can’t get it to go.

It’s worth noting that the guy sitting next to me (who has a spectacular silver mullet, by the way) is working with the Bulls radio crew. His job, best that I can tell, is to feverishly write things on scraps of torn-up box scores and running sheets (“Kidd 9 min so far, back they’ll cut his min very gradually this season”), show them to Wennington, then stuff them under the table. Someone should collect them all after the game and publish a book of single-game blank verse.

Snackbar misses a corner three, Magloire rebound, Nets reset. Wright gets it outside again with the shot clock winding down, takes one step in and hits the 20-footer. He wouldn’t have hit that last year.

Hey, the foul/points scoreboard thing is working! Good work, somebody. And, since it’s sponsored by Goya, I’ll take this opportunity to say I really enjoy Adobo.

Magloire out for Krstic.

Snackbar has a Full Metal Jacket haircut.

–When the Bulls clamp down on D, they render the Nets’ offense almost unwatchable. This would be a problem, except that Bulls can’t hit a shot themselves. Again, I’m going to blame Kobe. An Antoine Wright three builds the bulge.

–There is a gum race on the jumbotron. In case you were wondering, a late burst—GUM PUN ALERT!!!—from Wintergreen helps him (it?…is gum masculine or feminine?) overtake Juicy Fruit and Big Red.

This sort of thing happens in every arena, it just took a while to get to New Jersey. Actually, I’m not sure if it happens in MSG either, unless the rats racing under the stands counts. Although those races are unsanctioned and unsponsored. Someone should look into that.

Bonus gum puns: Jason Kidd seems ambi-dextrose sometimes. His team needing offense, Boki Nachbar just went to the scorer’s table and pectin.

Malik Allen’s in there, if you’re keeping track. (Uh, he plays for the Nets. No, really.)

Armstrong misses from the corner, Richard Jefferson gets the long rebound, and is “fouled” by Hinrich. Luckily Kirk’s already headed towards the bench, because that’s where he wants to end up.

–After Kristic hits a jumper, we hear Jay-Z: “Allow me to re-introduce myself!” Indeed, Nenad Kristic checks cheddar like the food inspector.

–Boki Nachbar (1-5) is struggling.

Allen with an ugly eight-foot baseline hook airball, Deng takes it the distance for the and-1, foul Nachbar. Splash. That’s nine for Lu.

TT with the defensive rebound in traffic, ahead to Duhon, to Gordon, who gets the layup on a drive off the wing. Krstic responds from Kidd.

Snackbar can’t get it, Lu rebounds—and the Bulls turn it back over somehow while I’m typing this. On a shot, I think. Taking notes sucks sometimes. Word to Holly MacKenzie.

–Jason Collins hasn’t played in over 13 minutes of game time.

Snackbar tries to back down Duhon, dribbles the ball off his foot and out of bounds.

–Josh Boone airs his first free throw of the season. In my Nets season preview, I wrote: “Josh Boone needs to learn how to hit a freaking free throw.”

I didn’t even realize he was in the game.

Nachbar from RJ. “You know this…” BALLIN’!

Loose ball offensive foul on Joe Smith. The Bulls are over the limit. Also, they can’t score. 1:27 to go in the half and they have 39 points. 39! Is there a scoring two-guard available that they could trade half the team for?

–We’re nearing the end of the first half and Richard Jefferson (13pts, 5rbs, 2asts) is the best player on the floor. In an effort to help his own cause, he goes for a facial over Joe Smith and gets fouled.

They call the foul, but it was worth it even though the League also forces the Bulls to give up their next five first-round picks.

The Nets run a swarming trap, Wallace misses a dunk, and the Nets get the final shot of the half. Which is a really, really bad one.

–The Nets pressure the Bulls into a few quick turnovers before the half that lead to dunks and free throws. They go into the break leading 56-41. Jason Kidd hasn’t logged a field goal attempt.

Freddy Jackson with the halftime performance! Lang is off somewhere with the Noahs, so he misses a potentially life-changing moment. Me? I’m grabbing the last hot dog (sorry, peoples) in the media room along with more of the seemingly endless supply of free gum. Mmmm, gum.

Third Quarter

All starters back in, Kirk with three fouls.

Gordon misses a three, it comes back out to Kirk, who hits one. 58-44, Nets, under 10 minutes (yeah, I seem to have missed a bit of the action while getting re-settled). Carter misses a high-flying, 360-degree…layup, Gordon comes back and hits a three. 58-47, Nets.

–Three and a half minutes into the third quarter, Ben Wallace has one rebound. I guess that’s what Jason Collins brings to the Nets.

Jason Collins’s blowout makes him look disconcertingly like Ben Wallace—who tonight is braided. It’s like one of those “player against themselves” commercials. Which is a terrifying thought, since neither of them could score in an empty gym.

–Ben Gordon, cold in the first half, is suddenly hot. A plethora of BG jumpers, a Deng dunk off a Jersey turnover and a Duhon 3 all but erase Jersey lead. It’s to be expected, I suppose. The game of basketball, much like the day after eating Chipotle, is all about runs. It figures that the Nets would come out flat and the Bulls would find their rhythm.

Some detail regarding the run: Gordon, long jumper, wet. Team-high 18 points. 66-55.

Duhon three from up top, from Tyrus. Bang. 66-58.

RJ dives for a loose ball, gets it, tries to shovel it to Kidd around mid-court. Deng intercepts, takes it all the way in for the two-handed dunk. 66-60, 5:45.

Nets miss, Thomas rebound, Kidd steal, Krstic layup attempt—offensive foul. The Izod Center crowd does not like this.

B.G.3. It’s 66-63 with 5:24 to go in the third, Gordon’s got 21, and all of a sudden it’s a game again. The Nets need motivation! Cue “300” clip and Pantera riff. Oh noes, now they’re serious!

–It’s worth noting that both teams have had success pressuring the ball.

–VC goes strong to the hole and gets hit in the face. Kudos on the effort.

There’s no call on the play, but Carter runs off the court to get something for his face anyway. I’m not sure if he’s really hurt or whether he’s just REALLY making sure the refs notice.

Joe Smith rims out a layup, Magloire airballs a hook in the paint. Yes, that’s hard to do. But Jamal is willing to do things others aren’t.

–A Ben Gordon jumper ties it at 69. Insert joke here.

–Scott Skiles is to sly as Lawrence Frank is to mini sly.

–Boki hits a three, opening up the Boston Snackbar for the first time all season.

RJ for three, misses, Nocioni rebounds in the paint. BG holds it up top, shakes Armstrong, can’t hit the shot. Vince launches a shot from just inside halfcourt, misses by a bunch. 74-73 Nets after three. Ben Gordon was 6-10 for 16 points in the quarter. Like my man Teddy KGB once said (only in a horrible fake Russian accent): “Give the man his money.”

Fourth Quarter

Joe Smith misses, Nocioni ends up with it and gives the Bulls their first lead since Michael Jordan retired. 75-74, Bulls.

It doesn’t last. Vince Carter. Pullup. 76-75, Nets.

Duhon with a drive and kick to Noc in the corner who misses the hell out of it.

Joe Smith rebound in the lane, fouled by Armstrong, plays it up.

Joe Smith airball, Thomas recovers to Nocioni. Nothin’.

Darrell Armstrong is emotional.

–Josh Boone is playing fourth quarter minutes. I disagree. Right after I write that, Boone fumbles a pass which leads to Chicago fast break. Soon after, he has trouble handling another pass. He atones by grabbing an offensive board in traffic, but I’m not sold on him as someone that warrants fourth quarter minutes.

Nets lose the ball, Duhon hits a rather improbable deflected layup. Whatever works, fellas.

–After a clutch three-point play, Antoine Wright, who has been playing the game of his life, doggedly pursues Ben Gordon on penetration and comes up with a timely rejection. The Bulls take it out of bounds and the ball is swung to Gordon who misses the jumper. Good close out by Wright. However, the Nets can’t convert down the other end.

It’s worth noting, perhaps, that Ben Wallace and Andres Nocioni have combined for six points.

Um, make that nine. Three-pointer from the corner from…well, you can probably figure it out. 81-80 Nets with 6:32 to go.

–Kidd’s knee is bothering him.

–After two straight horrible turnovers that lead to points—most notably, Luol Deng ripping VC as he brings the ball up the court—the Bulls lead 87-84, but the Nets come right back. A Wright 3 (!) and a Carter transition layup put Joisey back up by 2.

“Welcome to the Jungle”

Hinrich to Deng in the corner, can’t hit, Carter rebound, to Kidd, Carter misses a layup on the baseline, follows his own—although it looks like the basket should have gone to Collins. Take from the poor, give to the rich. 91-87, Nets with 2:40 to go.

5th team foul (2nd on JC) sends Gordon to the line. Both.

Nocioni fouls RJ. Duhon checks in for Noc. Three guards, Deng and Wallace. RJ wets both.

Kirk…carry. Turnover. Yikes. With three guards (Duhon, Gordon and Hinrich) on the floor you’d think they could at least bring the ball upcourt successfully. Or not.

Antoine Wright, ANOTHER three. He’s got 16! And he couldn’t shoot last year! Under two minutes, Nets by seven.

Hinrich floater. 96-91 Nets, 1:30 left.

Carter airballs a corner 3, Kirk comes up with it, Deng rebounds a Duhon miss (that takes way too long to develop, in my humble opinion) and comes up with the layup. 96-93, 1:03. Timeout.

Nocioni back in for Duhon.

Kidd airballs a corner three (I sense a theme). Nocioni hits a three up top on a Hinrich drive and kick (nice substitution, Coach). Tied up. 26 seconds.

VC airballs a jumper on the baseline, Bulls with the rebound and timeout. 19.4 seconds.

Gordon holds up top. 10 seconds. 9. 8. Tries a three over Carter (what? The game IS tied, right?) that’s partially blocked, Wallace gets it with a chance, but yeah, he’s Ben Wallace. O. Ver. Time.

It’s worth noting that while Ben Gordon’s final shot was absurd (pass the ball, dog), the Nets last three shots were airballs. The NBA: Where Terrible Shots Happen.

Overtime

Ben Wallace to the line. The first is a good three feet short. Dude, you’ve been doing this for HOW many years? The line and the basket are in the same place, right? I don’t get it. The second is off the front rim.

–A Wright 3 opens up the OT scoring. “IT’S ALL WRIGHT!” exclaims PA/PR phenomenon, Gary Sussman, a man who admits that he wants to write for SLAM magazine after the game. Everyone wants a seat at the cool kids’ table these days.

–Just when you think J-Kidd is too tired and dinged up to play the role of difference maker—as indicated by some poor, fatigue-influenced decisions—he floats the perfect inbounds touch pass to VC, who drops in the easy layup.

Deng isoed on RJ, out, Gordon drive and dump to Nocioni, yes. 101-100, Nets. 1:55.

103-100 with 1:48 to go. Not sure where the extra basket came from, but I’ll accept the scoreboard’s ruling. I must have been distracted by all the branding (and there’s a heck of a lot of it). When the first NBA team sells advertising space on it’s jerseys, it’s going to be the Nets. I also note (out loud) that I’m surprised the Nets haven’t found a way to play on a plexiglass court so they could sell seats underneath it.

Hinrich drive to the baseline, underhand dish to Wallace in the paint for the open dunk. Pretty play. Back to a one-point game. RJ gets it back to three. 1:12.

–RJ hurts himself celebrating a 3 that puts the Nets up 3. It doesn’t seem to be that bad, though; Josh Boone is laughing.

It’s 108-102 Nets with 37.6 seconds left. The Bulls need a miracle. Unfortunately he still plays for the Lakers.

Kirk drive, to Ben Wallace underneath, fouled by Twin. Oh God, here we go again. Short on the first, perfect with the second. 108-103, 33.2 seconds.

The Snackbar is open. But first, another time out.

Kirk fouls Wright, 31.2 seconds left. That’s it for Kirk. And it’s not even a shooting foul. Enter Duhon. Inbound again, Sefolosha foul Vince, 32.3 seconds. Which, unless I noted things wrong, is impossible.

RJ blocks Gordon’s J from behind, Armstrong to the line. Gordon misses, rims out, aaaand that’s gonna do it.

–The Nets take control and win going away. The game ends with Tyrus Thomas unnecessarily dry-humping Darrell Armstrong.

Final score, Nets 112, Bulls 103. Dancers come on for the postgame celebration. With Sly. And Team Hype. Woo-hoo. One down, 81 to go.

Postgame

–All of the Nets lockers have big “Big Red” decals on them. They should replace those with pictures of Brian Scalabrine’s face.

–John Schuuman of NBA.com—my future 3 point shooting adversary—points out that Sean Williams tried to leave the arena with his jersey. Um, no, rook.

–Antoine Wright and Richard Jefferson have lockers next to each other. Aaron Harris, the Robin to Sussman’s Batman, points out (in an effort to get into the game notes, no doubt) that it’s usually Wright that can’t get to his locker because the media is all over Jefferson. Tonight the roles are reversed. Not only is it a career high in points for Wright, it’s a career high in media members crowding him.

Talking point: Vince Carter’s toughness: Even though he shot a paltry 6-21, VC showed some good aggression and toughness after a slow start. He went 10-10 from the line, at least partially atoning for his poor shooting from the floor, and he really mixed it up. I’m left to wonder how much the Nets’ motion based offense and healthy roster play into this. Last year, there was a lot of stagnation and a lot of reliance on VC’s creativity. Since the added options out there (healthy Kristic, healthy Jefferson, improved Wright/Nachbar) and the free-flowing nature of the offense take some of the pressure off of Vince, were those the factors that enabled him to play aggressively tonight? Or was it just that he was amped for opening night matchup against a physical opponent. Time will tell. The most telling stat is that the Nets shot 41 free throws and VC was a leader in that regard. I will say, though, it was nice to see the motion—especially from Richard Jefferson, who excels at taking a jab step towards the baseline corner and then cutting across the middle of the lane.

Talking point: Antoine Wright: Career game for him. Couldn’t be happier for him. If he can maintain this level of confidence, the Nets might end up being the deepest team in the conference.

Talking point: Speaking of depth, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Having Curly (Kristic) on the floor gives the starting unit four viable scoring options and it negates any undue pressure that would be put on Jason Collins to score (not that he would anyway, but I digress…). This lets Twin focus on being the defensive glue guy who, along with Richard Jefferson, maintains the team defense. Off the bench, having two feasible scoring options in Wright and Nachbar gives Lawrence Frank the flexibility to always stick with the hotter hand. If they both play well this year, it will remind me of a solid 1-2 bullpen tandem. And Magloire, Boone and Malik Allen, all bring something unique off the bench. Depth like this is what helps the Nets survive an off-night from Vince Carter. Options, options, options…

Talking point: Luol Deng: The Bulls can’t trade him. He’s such important cog to anything they want to accomplish, Kobe or no Kobe. He plays the game the right way and does nearly everything well. Put it this way, if Luol Deng was a body of water, he’d be the Fundamental Sound.

Talking point: Bulls at Nets: The Bulls can’t win here. It’s been forever. Jersey is their waterloo. This would bode well for the Nets should these two meet in the playoffs. Which is a long way away, but Appleson can dream, right? Thank heavens the NBA is back.