The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors will meet in the NBA's first regular season game in Europe on Friday, taking over London's O2 Arena in match-up that would draw yawns or worse back in the United States. The teams will play a back-to-back at the O2, with Saturday's second dip already sold out and Friday's game, which will be broadcast live on NBA TV at 3 PM Eastern, near capacity.
The NBA has played exhibition games in London and other European cities, but commissioner David Stern has wanted to push the league on the United Kingdom in advance of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The league did something similar with China in advance of the 2008 Beijing Games, pushing NBA marketing by sending teams there. (And it worked; China is basketball crazy, not solely due to the NBA's effort, and at least in part due to outreach from the world's top league.)
Of course, the NBA might have more success in London with better teams, but the Raptors have a certain international flair with six foreign-born players (though I'm not sure how Brazilians like Leandro Barbosa or Italians like Andrea Bargnani help draw Brits) and the Nets, who have the NBA's first foreign-born owner in Mikhail Prokhorov, have a deep desire to expand beyond Newark or Brooklyn. (The Nets were also willing to give up two home games to make the London trip. That's right -- instead of the Raptors and Nets each losing a home game for the two-game trip, the Nets are losing two.)
Deron Williams will indeed play; there had been fears he'd sit out the London games to rest his ailing wrist, and even concerns he'd sit the remainder of New Jersey's lost season to prepare for next year (if there is a next year). It's impossible to gauge how tired the teams will be, and how they'll play at different exhaustion levels. But the Nets have the best player on the court in Williams, and that could be the difference.