Nets win NBA's regular season debut in Europe
LONDON (Reuters) - The New Jersey Nets took the honors in the NBA's first regular season game staged in Europe by beating the Toronto Raptors 116-103 on Friday.
With the Raptors and Nets anchored near the bottom of the Eastern Conference the game will have little significance other than marking another milestone in the NBA's expansion plans.
Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 points while Toronto's DeMar DeRozan had a game-high 30 in the first of two sell-out games at London's O2 arena. The second game takes place on Saturday.
Nets point guard Deron Williams, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Utah Jazz late last month, scored 16 points and dished out 11 assists in his team's first win in seven games.
"We were all a little worried about how the trip would affect us, whether fatigue would set in, but we had a lot of energy and definitely some bright spots," Williams told reporters after the game.
London fans were treated to an entertaining match featuring much of the acrobatics and electricity the NBA has come to be known for.
A high-flying slam dunk by Toronto's DeRozan halfway through the first quarter was met with another ferocious jam by Nets center Lopez a minute later that once again sent the sell-out crowd to their feet.
The league has played a handful of regular season games outside North America since holding its first in Japan in 1990, but had never played any in Europe.
The two London games, along with three recently-announced high profile matches to be played in Manchester over the next 18 months, are part of a push to bring professional basketball to Britain and the rest of Europe ahead of London's 2012 Olympics.
Despite selling out almost every pre-season match played on the continent since 2007, however, a Europe-based NBA franchise looks a long way off.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the league could be a decade away from having a team, let alone an entire division, based in Europe.
"NBA Commissioner David Stern could see it happening with in the next 10 years ... (but) it depends on what we see this weekend (and) how basketball is received during the Olympics," he said.
The influx of European players to the NBA in recent years also influenced the decision to hold this weekend's games.
Combined, Toronto and New Jersey have seven international players on their rosters, with six hailing from Europe.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the Nets, also hails from Russia and is the first international NBA franchise owner.
But regardless of the league's growing popularity in Europe, Silver was reluctant to say whether the NBA would commit to playing regular seasons games there on an annual basis.
"I'm not so sure about every season," he said.
(Reporting by Michael Szabo; Editing by Peter Rutherford)