Carter -- whose teammates elected him the Nets' captain, coach Lawrence Frank announced before the game -- made a 16-foot fadeaway jumper over Caron Butler to put the visitors ahead 90-82 with a minute left and effectively settle a back-and-forth game.
These are teams that took very different approaches this offseason. The Wizards essentially stayed pat, re-signing All-Stars Arenas and Antawn Jamison to big contracts, while the Nets continued an overhaul that began when they traded away Jason Kidd.
Carter had plenty of help Wednesday, with 17 points from Yi Jianlian and 14 from former Wizards player Jarvis Hayes.
Six Wizards scored in double-figures, led by Jamison and DeShawn Stevenson with 14 apiece. All-Star forward Caron Butler shot 3-for-11 and finished with 13 points.
Etan Thomas played in his first real NBA game since an April 30, 2007, playoff loss to Cleveland. Thomas missed all of last season after having open-heart surgery, but he looked fit and aggressive Wednesday and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Wizards are opening the season without Arenas, who is recovering from a third operation on his left knee in 1 1/2 years. When healthy, he is the Wizards' top scorer, most creative player and go-to option when they need a buzzer-beater. They certainly could have used him while managing to score only one field goal in last 6 minutes Wednesday.
Arenas has offered varying estimates for when he might be back this season, and Washington coach Eddie Jordan was vague when asked about his star's rehabilitation.
"No timetable. Due process. He's on course. He's disciplined about it. He's diligent about it," Jordan said. "And we'll just have to see as it goes along."
During a glittery pregame ceremony, Arenas was not introduced to the crowd. When play began, he sat on the sideline wearing a sports coat and brightly colored foullard. A row behind Arenas was center Brendan Haywood, who had a breakthrough 2007-08 season but needed surgery on his right wrist this month and could be out for the season.
Neither team looked quite ready to go in a first half that lacked any rhythm and ended with Washington leading 46-44.
In the third quarter, Washington went on 10-0 run, with half the points scored by Antonio Daniels, to take a 62-58 lead with 4:14 left. But Hayes came in to score five consecutive points -- with a background of boos -- and put the Nets back in front.
Keyon Dooling scored the last four points of the third quarter to give New Jersey a 69-67 edge heading to the fourth.
The Wizards' last lead was 75-74 with 8:17 left, and New Jersey ended the game on a 21-10 run.
The Nets returned only one starter from last season's opening-night roster: Carter, of course. Overall, only three current players -- Carter, Josh Boone and Sean Williams -- were on the roster at the start of last season, the fewest number of holdovers in franchise history.
That is why Frank said he's installed less than half of his offense.
"We're not going to be a finished product now," he said. "This is going to be an evolving thing—clean up and improve and continue to put in things whenever the group is ready for it. We have hardly anything in."
Still, on this night, it was enough.
Notes: When Blatche sauntered into the Wizards locker room before the game with a fresh haircut, Stevenson recognized the old-school ‘do right away, labeling it "The Shawn Kemp." ... Arenas walked through the locker room a little more than an hour before tipoff and headed straight for the trainer's room, even playfully covering his face with both hands when he spied a video camera.