After win in dress rehearsal, Nets are primed for Bulls

Brook Lopez drives past the Detroit Pistons' Andre Brook Lopez drives past the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond for a layup in the first quarter of a game at the Barclays Center. (April 17, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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They probably felt like someone dressed in a spiffy tuxedo at the prom, holding a corsage as they sit on the side looking silly, waiting for their date to arrive.

As the Eastern Conference playoff picture started taking shape the last few days, with two matchups set before Wednesday night's 15 regular-season finales around the league, the Nets could only wonder. Were they going to square off against the Hawks. Or was a date with the Bulls going to be in order?

Finally, not long after they wrapped up a meaningless 103-99 victory over the Pistons at the Barclays Center that had zero bearing on their playoff positioning, the fourth-seeded Nets (49-33) got their answer. By virtue of the Knicks' win over the Hawks, the Bulls (45-37) were locked into the fifth seed and the Nets will host them in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Saturday.

"It's going to be a tough battle,'' Deron Williams said after registering eight points and six assists before getting pulled with the Nets' four other starters late in the third quarter. "They beat us three times, so we've definitely got our work cut out for us. But anything can happen in a seven-game series.''

Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson sure looked like they're ready for the playoffs to start, fine-tuning things in a game interim coach P.J. Carlesimo wanted to play his regulars in so they could work up a serious lather. Lopez had 20 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes and Johnson added 10 points.

Even Gerald Wallace was active, throwing down an alley-oop from Williams, stuffing home a righthander and coming up with a nifty block -- all on successive possessions in the first quarter.

"I think everybody is semi-healthy now,'' Williams said, "and for the first time in a long time, we have everybody at full strength. So, we are definitely excited about that and feel confident that when we are playing at our highest level, we are tough to beat.''

Even though they were one of the league's top road teams, starting things off at home might be a good thing for the Nets. With the playoffs being a new thing in Brooklyn, it's likely going to bring a distinctive fervor.

It could be a wild, frenzied environment, allowing fans to welcome the Bulls to the borough in true Brooklyn fashion.

"Like us, it's going to be a new experience for the people in the building, too,'' Carlesimo said, "so I think that's part of it. I think that in New York or Chicago, or where they've had playoff games before, that experience will be evident. It'll be evident when we get to the United Center.

"Our fans have been great. I think . . . it'll be a fantastic atmosphere. I've said all along, we've got to give them a reason to make noise.''

For Johnson, all those cheers and hoopla won't mean a whole lot if the Nets don't go all the way. Johnson believes that anything besides the Larry O'Brien Trophy isn't going to cut it.

"Obviously a championship,'' Johnson said when asked what will make this a successful season. "We want that golden ball, otherwise it wasn't a success.''

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