NEW YORK (AP) -- Brook Lopez sat on the bench in Newark last season, recuperating from a foot injury as his the Brooklyn-bound Nets were on their way to a 12-win season and his name popping in every imaginable trade rumor for Dwight Howard.
A year later, Lopez had 20 points and nine rebounds to help the playoff bound Nets hold off the Detroit Pistons 103-99 on Wednesday night.
Brooklyn is headed back to the playoffs after a six-year absence, hosting the opener of the first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
"It's really been an amazing journey," Lopez said. "It's very surreal to think of the power point presentations they'd show us when the management would come in and show us renderings of the Barclays Center and all the those factoids about how big Brooklyn is and all that stuff and everything.
"To be finally here now and be on the verge of the playoffs, it's pretty incredible."
Reggie Evans scored 15 points 15, Kris Humphries had 11 points and Joe Johnson added 10 for Brooklyn, winners of two straight.
Nets general manager Billy King was able to convince star point guard Deron Williams to resist going back home to Texas and taking less money from Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. King then swung a deal with Atlanta for Joe Johnson, re-signed Gerald Wallace, whom he acquired last February from Portland in exchange for a first-round draft pick that turned out to be Damian Lillard. Lopez agreed to a four-year max deal and Kris Humphries signed a two-year deal instead of inking a contract with Charlotte.
All part of a plan to compete for a championship, the lone goal of billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prohkorov.
But first, the fourth-seeded Nets will have to go through a tough Chicago team that has been without star Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in Game 1 of their first round series against Philadelphia last April.
The Bulls clinched the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference when Atlanta lost to the New York Knicks. Chicago won three of four against Brooklyn this season, including two at home.
The three losses were by one point, four points and two points, respectively, and Brooklyn will have its hands full with a Bulls team that is looking forward to getting Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson back to normal after injuries had slowed them down recently.
"They've beat us three times so we got our work cut out for us. Anything can happen in a seven game series," Williams said.
The wildcard in all of this is Rose, whose return is still unknown although he has been practicing with the team.
"His situation is tough. He hasn't played all season. I think Nate (Robinson) and Kirk (Hinrich) have been doing a great job at the point for them, so it's all about timing and rhythm and confidence," Williams said. "I think it's tough for him right now. Derrick Rose is a former MVP, so you have to think if he plays he's going to help that team."
For the fourth straight season, the Detroit Pistons will be missing the playoffs and going on an early vacation.
Will Bynum had 23 points for the Pistons, who snapped a four-game winning streak. Andre Drummond scored 13 and Greg Monroe added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
According to a report on Yahoo! Sports, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank reportedly told team owner Tom Gores and general manager Joe Dumars that he wasn't interested in leading the team for a third year if the fourth year on his contract was not picked up.
After the game, Frank sounded as if changes were imminent while describing the season as one that was hard, "both professionally and personally.
"When you look at improvement, it always starts internal improvement," Frank said. "We have to get better, coaches (and) players. Obviously this is the first time in five years where the franchise, we have an opportunity to get better from the outside and have significant cap space. There's always trades. There's always the draft. So there's a lot of different ways to do it but it will take time."
Brooklyn led by as many as 21 points and almost saw their reserves squander a 15 point lead with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter after Blatche's 3-pointer made it 103-88.
However, the Pistons scored the game's last 11 points, capped by Kim English's free throw with 53 seconds to go. Brooklyn then committed an 8-second violation, but the Pistons missed their final three shots.