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Nets still the underdogs, but blossoming in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8), center Brook Lopez (11) and forward Gerald Wallace (45) tap hands as Chicago Bulls point guard Nate
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8), center Brook Lopez (11) and forward Gerald Wallace (45) tap hands as Chicago Bulls point guard Nate

By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With a billionaire owner and a dazzling new stadium in New York City's most populated borough, the Brooklyn Nets are not everyone's idea of an underdog.

But in a sport where giants really do walk the court, the Nets have some legitimate claims to being a David among the Goliaths of the National Basketball Association.

For starters, they have no LeBron James or Kobe Bryant and have never won an NBA title. And even if they had they would still remain in the lengthy shadow of their cross-city rivals, the New York Knicks.

The Nets have come a long way over the last 12 months, defying the odds to make the NBA playoffs, but they remain longshots to win the championship.

A year ago the Nets were one of the worst teams in the NBA, struggling to win games and failing to fill seats at their old arena in New Jersey, which they shared with the National Hockey League's Devils.

Thanks to the financial backing of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who helped build the Barclays Center, they have a new home which is filled for every game, and a new name in Brooklyn.

The turnaround has been as rapid as it has been impressive.

The Nets finished the regular season with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, earning home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, where they were paired with the Chicago Bulls.

Even a win over Michael Jordan's old team might only be a temporary stay of execution with the Miami Heat lurking as the next opponent for the victor.

After winning the first game in the best-of-seven series, the Nets lost the next three and were suddenly facing the prospect of early elimination.

A year full of promise was in danger of ending on a flat note, but on Monday, back at home, they showed they had the stomach for a fight, beating the Bulls 110-91 to force a sixth game.

Brook Lopez, the 7ft (2.13m) center, scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while guard Deron Williams chipped in with 23 points and 10 assists as the Nets piled on 33 points in the final quarter.

"I don't really have a social life, but I really didn't want to go home yet," said Lopez.

Nets forward Gerald Wallace was also keen to stay around a little longer: "It's win or go home," he said. "And right now, I don't think any of the guys are ready to go home."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)