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Wishful Thinking for Nets in 2011-12

Lockout? What lockout?

In a business as usual move, the NBA unveiled its 2011-12 schedule Tuesday afternoon as if the league’s work stoppage didn’t even exist. Actually, that’s not true: NBA officials said the new schedule is contingent upon the successful completion of the new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union in a timely fashion.

Is this work stoppage going to end in time for team training camps? No one for sure knows that answer, but all signs are pointing to an abbreviated season at best. Most skeptics think the season will likely be lost. I’m putting blind faith in both sides – the NBA is coming off one of its best seasons attendance-wise, and there’s plenty of reason to think that the sport’s popularity ceiling is still way beyond anyone’s heads.

But I’m not here to talk about the lockout or the millions upon millions of bucks that are being discussed. I’m here to think about the perfect world, the place in which strikes and lockouts don’t exist. I just want to talk about this schedule, particularly the one that our local team, the Nets, is staring at right now.

The Nets hope to rebound from another ho-hum year. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division (24-58 overall), a 12-game improvement from the dreadful ’09-’10 campaign, and created little bits of excitement every now and then. The acquisition of All-Star point guard Deron Williams gave life to the franchise and even turned a light on for the team’s future.

Well, the future is now. Let’s assume that the lockout ends in time to start the season, and D-Will crumples up that contract to play in Turkey. Jersey will start the season Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Washington. The Nets will then return to Newark for a three-game home stand against Detroit, Milwaukee and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. From there, they’ll travel to Miami on Nov. 11 to take on Lebron, D-Wade and crew.

Other November highlights include a home game against the Knicks on Nov. 25. On Dec. 16, the Nets will be up inBostonthen return home for back-to-back games against the Lakers and then the Celtics. A four-game West Coast trip beginning Jan. 11 in Denver will test the Nets. That stretch includes a Jan. 14 trip to D-Will’s old stomping grounds inUtah. That trip will be following by games against Oklahoma City, Miami and Chicago.

In March, the Nets will play Orlando twice in a special series overseas. The O2 Arena in London will host games pittingJerseyand the Magic on March 7 and 8. Both of those games will be on national television on NBA TV. Three other Nets games will be on NBA TV: Jan. 7 (Knicks), Jan. 14 (atUtah) and Feb. 4 (at Knicks).

If the Nets are in the playoff hunt (big IF), they’ll have a tough April. Five of the team’s nine games that month are against the Lakers, Celtics, Hawks, Heat and Bulls. Yowsers is right.

Is it even fair to talk playoffs? Yes, the Nets have D-Will and rising star Brook Lopez (20.4 ppg and six boards), but are the rest of the pieces in place to make a run for spring basketball at The Rock? Kris Humphries averaged a double-double and is proving to be a reliable player, as is fifth-year guard Jordan Farmar. But with Sasha Vujacic definitely playing inTurkeynext year, someone will have to fill that void.

The Nets definitely need this lockout to end and fill some holes through free agency. They can add someone like Nene, who opted out of the final year of his contract withDenverto become a free agent. Nene’s a beast, but I’m not sure how well he’d complement Lopez… and he’ll come with a hefty price tag, too. They also need a full training camp to see what their rookies will offer. Head coach Avery Johnson will look to rotate in first round pick MarShon Brooks to provide scoring and defense at the two-guard and second round selection Jordan Williams at power forward.

Of course, some of the aforementioned might not even finish the year on the Nets roster. Humphries’ stock has risen over the past year and might be used in a package trade during the season. Lopez and Farmar are expendable as well. To get what player you ask? My answer: someone big enough with Superman-like powers to make this team a contender and fill the seats at Atlantic Yards in a couple of years.

OK, so why are we even looking at the schedule and the Nets’ roster with this big gorilla of a lockout on the league’s back? It’s called wishful thinking. No one wants the season to just die. We want to be excited by sports, not disenfranchised. We just want our damn hoops.

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