Nets "Championship Journey" begins in Cleveland

Elsa

No more preseason predictions, power rankings or punditry. It's about The Game.

The Nets flew into Cleveland Tuesday, promising a title run for Brooklyn. Their first test will be an interesting one. One of the biggest issues --their age-- will be tested by the youth of the Cavaliers. Another --Jason Kidd's ability to coach-- won't be answered just yet. Kidd will miss Wednesday's opener and Friday's home opener as well. Lawrence Frank, who's lost 18 straight games as a Nets coach, is likely to be on the bench in his place.

The Cavaliers are loaded with young talent. Kyrie Irving, the East's leading scorer among point guards last season ... and still only 21, leads the team.  Tristan Thompson, who nearly averaged a double-double at 22, will go against Kevin Garnett, and Anderson Varejao, recovered from multiple injuries, will battle Brook Lopez. Earl Clark, now 25, will be at small forward and Dion Waiters, also 21, is at shooting guard.

Other than Irving, the most fascinating players on the roster are Anthony Bennett, the 6'7" overall No. 1 pick, and the Cavaliers big risk, Andrew Bynum, the oft-injured center who missed all of last year with the 76ers.  Bennett is raw and isn't like to be part of the rotation for a while. Bynum, on the other hand, is supposed to be close to practicing but still far from making his first start.

For the Nets, everyone but Andrei Kirilenko (back) and Toko Shengelia (knee) should be available. Deron Williams played only a few minutes in the team's last preseason game, but looked ready.  Paul Pierce missed a couple of practices with a sore toe, but no one is suggesting it's anything more than an annoyance. Shaun Livingston will have a bit of a homecoming. He played for the Cavs last year, filling in for Irving when he was injured.

The big test will be defense. Irving was the type of player who gave the Nets fits last season (and the season before): an athletic point guard. Will the Nets new defensive scheme keep Irving under control? And will they let Varejao play his wild man's game.

Bottom line: The game is the kind of game championship teams win. No excuses.

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