Sunday begins feeling-out process

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets open the preseason on Sunday in what is a meaningless game, but at least you can start to get a feel for how the team is going to play or what it’s going to look like.

We’ve been hearing so much about defense and scoring off the defense, and you wonder what’s going to happen if the Nets trail 28-12 after the first quarter against the Knicks on Sunday in Albany

Anyway, whatever we see Sunday will look much different as the preseason and regular season goes on because first of all, likely starting shooting guard Courtney Lee won’t be in the lineup due to an inflamed left foot. Lee is expected back next week.

But it will look much different because the players will get used to playing with each other and get into more of a rhythm, and coach Lawrence Frank will have a better understanding of what lineups and rotations work best.

That’s what will be interesting about this preseason, perhaps more than any in recent years, starting to see who fits where.

nets275_100209.jpgIn the past, you knew Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins would be the starting team with Lucious Harris, Aaron Williams, Rodney Rogers, Anthony Johnson and whomever coming off the bench. Then it was Kidd, Vince Carter, Jefferson, Collins and Nenad Krstic with assorted bench players.

Last season, it was somewhat up in the air, but you could guess that Devin Harris and Carter would start with Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons and Josh Boone, who eventually would be replaced by Brook Lopez, and then Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling, Eduardo Najera and Ryan Anderson would be in the mix off the bench.

This season, you can guess that Harris, Lee and Lopez are pretty much locks and that Yi will get another shot as the starting power forward. Hayes might be the frontrunner as the starting small forward right now, but things could change.

Then off the bench, Rafer Alston is the backup point guard with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Terrence Williams the reserve swingmen, but Simmons is back there still and can play both forward positions especially if the Nets go small.

Boone has been practicing at power forward, so Frank is working on having a big unit with Lopez and Boone together, which the Nets hope will help their defensive rebounding.

You can’t overlook or forget three injured players in Dooling, Eduardo Najera and Tony Battie, and what they can provide and do to the overall rotation.

“I think the thing that’s going to benefit us the most is our numbers,” Lee said today. “We got a lot of guys that play similar positions. Therefore when we’re playing in a game, and we send that first five out there to attack and when that five get tired we got another five that’s going to go out there and attack them again. So I think our strength is going to be in numbers.”

Of course it’s up to Frank to determine which groups work best together.

Last year, at end of games, it often was Harris, Dooling, Carter, Hayes and Lopez. Some would say the Nets went small too much but it was due to lack of consistent production at power forward. That’s probably another reason why Boone has been working back there. He didn’t play alongside Lopez at all last year.

The most interesting is what happens in the backcourt and small forward, though. There will be times when the Nets can play Williams at point with Lee or Harris or Douglas-Roberts and then Hayes at small forward or they can play Harris, with Lee and then Williams and have a quick athletic team, a trapping unit and one that’s good in transition.

“We have a lot of different combinations,” Frank said. “There are a lot of intriguing possibilities we have to evaluate. And the thing you want to do at a certain point is have a firm grasp. But you have a lot of different parts.”

That doesn’t mean the Nets will be good because we don’t really know how these parts fit. But Frank said before camp that the Nets are going to come at teams in waves to be successful. It certainly looks they will and they can.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

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