Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov authorized spending an NBA-record $180 million this season in combined salaries and luxury taxes, with an eye toward unseating the Heat.
The Nets now get their chance to topple the two-time defending champions, with Game 1 set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Having advanced to play Miami by ousting Toronto in seven games, Brooklyn enters this Eastern Conference semifinal emboldened by its 4-0 record against the Heat in the regular season, but also knowing, as Nets forward Paul Pierce said Sunday, that the Heat “is a different team in the playoffs.”
Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.
Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in the postseason.
Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”
The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward.
One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear whether Spoelstra will do that.
“Chris Bosh will have to match up with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who [Spoelstra] will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever [Spoelstra] wants to do.”
Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”
Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size-wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”
He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”
Several themes emerged in the four regular-season games. Among them:
“They executed better down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. They beat us at our own game.”
“I don’t think we played our best basketball against them,” Heat guard Ray Allen said. “Defensively, we weren’t good. Hats off to them because they beat us four times. We don’t particularly like how we played in those games.”
THIS AND THAT
Wade, incidentally, is sporting a beard: “I don’t want to even say it’s a playoff beard. It’s just what I’m doing right now. When you’re a man, you don’t have many options.”