EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Deron Williams probably wished it wasn't mentioned, preferring he didn't have to be reminded of the Nets' early-season struggles a year ago.
"We aren't even talking about that," Williams said Tuesday with a wry smile. "Man, you bringing up old stuff."
Only because it's now around that same time, given the Nets are finally ready to officially tip things off for real against the Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night. Brooklyn also might start its 2014-15 season without their 7-foot center because Brook Lopez participated strictly in non-contact drills at Tuesday's practice and the team listed him as doubtful for the opener.
The Nets began their highly anticipated second season in Brooklyn by dropping 13 of their first 18 games last year, didn't post a winning record until March 5, and were on a mountainous climb up the standings the rest of the season, so a repeat performance this season wouldn't be ideal.
"We want to, of course, avoid a start like last season. That's a given," Williams said. "But we are not thinking like that. We are attacking it one game at a time and so all we can do is focus on this Boston game, go in there and getting a win and starting off the season right."
The steady, calming voice of Lionel Hollins wasn't around last season, so the Nets' new coach doesn't exactly feel the need to harp on the importance of racing out of the gates with the speed of a cheetah. Drawing from his personal experience, he emphasized that tortoise-like results at a season's outset don't necessarily equate to a bad season.
"Everybody wants to get off to a fast start, but you get off to how you get off and then you have to work your way through it," Hollins said. "I've been on teams that were 3-8, 3-9 and we won 49, 50 games. But I've also been on a team that started off 12-2. Then you turn around and you lose 10 of your next 15 games, and then we wind up winning 56 games.
"You want to get off to a good start, but you've just got to play. If you are ready to get off to a good start, your schedule is favorable, you may. And if it's not, you won't. If you go and play 11 of your first 15 on the road, and against good teams, it's going to be a struggle to get off to a really good start."
Early indications point to the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, who's had a speedy recovery from a broken left hand, being healthy enough to play. But it appears as if Lopez won't beat the Nets' original timetable, indicating he'd be sidelined for 10-14 days. Unlike Rondo, Lopez has yet to practice with contact since being diagnosed with a mild right midfoot sprain Oct. 16.
If Lopez sits out, Mason Plumlee would slide into the starting lineup alongside Kevin Garnett, meaning the Nets would have to use someone else on the low blocks offensively since playing with his back to the basket isn't one of Plumlee's strengths yet. He's more of an athletic high riser who plays above the rim, and doesn't have the traditional big-man repertoire of Lopez.
"It's two different players," Williams said. "Mase is not as much of a post-up threat as Brook is, but Brook can't run the floor like Mase. So we will be able to get out and run a little bit more, I think, and still try some pick-and-rolls with Mase. He's still a good screener and a great finisher around the basket. He's just not as skilled and he's not a vet like Brook."
"Brook means a lot to this team on both ends of the floor and Mase has done a great job filling in. And a lot of that is due to his long summer with [Team]USA. He's definitely matured as a player and is going to help us win games this year."
Doing just that over the first month of the season would probably go a long way in keeping any negative thoughts about last season from creeping into their minds. Whether they are ready or not, it's time to raise the curtain on the NBA season.
"I'm glad that the regular season is here and now that we are able to play games that actually counts," Joe Johnson said. "So everything is pretty meaningful at this point."