Expectations lowered as injuries hit both teams.
The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks are in London this week as part of the NBA’s push to globalise the sport, and despite some key absentees it is vital that this regular season clash lives up to its billing in order to prove that it was well worth the visit.
The popularity and success of the NFL International Series has been well publicised in recent years, with the UK set to be rewarded with three regular season games later this year.
While the NFL’s hierarchy have undoubtedly found the correct balance between entertainment and sporting action in terms of putting on a show for an entire weekend, it is still felt that there is room for improvement for the NBA management in order to make a bigger impression across the pond.
Given the speed at which tickets sold out for the event at the O2 on Thursday night, it would suggest that the target market is there and very much engaged, and the NBA have felt it worthwhile to return after the New York Knicks beat the Detroit Pistons this time last year.
Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Al Horford are three high-profile names that will be missing come tip-off, but with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jeff Teague set to take to the floor it promises to be a competitive and entertaining game.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov effectively said that it was “championship or bust” this season, but with signs of recovery since the turn of the year, Brooklyn will be looking to secure a much-needed win against an Eastern Conference rival that is arguably over-achieving as they sit in fourth spot.
Suggestions of an NFL franchise in London appears to be a recurring theme, and although the logistical aspects of such a move are perhaps holding back progress, the NBA has also flirted with the idea.
However, it continues to split opinion with Brooklyn star Andrei Kirilenko insisting that the travel involved wouldn’t allow it to work, while team-mate Pierce was of the opinion this week that there will be an NBA franchise in the UK “within the next five or ten years”, as Joe Johnson added that it was “fun” for them travelling from the East Coast.
Nevertheless, with both the Nets and Hawks on promotional tours during the week to increase awareness and reward expectant fans waiting for Thursday night, it is a real bonus to see the NBA return to the UK and emphasise their renewed efforts of globalising the sport.
Although they are missing arguably their two best players, Brooklyn remain a highly popular franchise. Those in attendance will be delighted that the NBA has returned again and the hope is that basketball will only go from strength to strength in the UK in the coming years.