Brooklyn Nets, familiar foes ready to challenge Miami Heat
The Heat put together the Big 3 to topple the Celtics. Now old foes and former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will try to unseat the two-time defending champion Heat with the Brooklyn Nets.
05/06/2014 12:01 AM
05/18/2014 10:39 PM
They called Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce dinosaurs in the first round. On Monday, Dwyane Wade took the gag a step further.
For the Heat’s star shooting guard, Garnett and Pierce apparently have risen from the grave.
On the eve of the second round on Monday, Wade joked that he didn’t think he would ever be seeing former Boston Celtics Pierce and Garnett again in the postseason.
But here they are, reanimated stars playing for a reanimated franchise all funded by one Dr. Frankenstein of an owner. The Heat and Brooklyn Nets begin their second-round series on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who moved the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn, has spent $180 million — an NBA record — in salary and luxury tax this season to bring together a team deep enough and experienced enough to challenge the Heat.
At the center of his creation are Pierce and Garnett, familiar villains in Miami.
The Nets defeated the Toronto Raptors in seven games to advance to the second round. At the beginning of that series, one Toronto tabloid called the first-round matchup “Raptors vs. Dinosaurs.” Wade went with the undead allusion.
“We thought when we played them in Boston, we thought we buried them,” Wade said.
Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh knocked Pierce and Garnett’s Celtics out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012. The following season, the Heat stole away Ray Allen. The year after that, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers bailed out of Boston as well.
Wade, James and Bosh joined forces, in part, to topple the Celtics’ dynasty. They did that. Now the roles are reversed, and Pierce and Garnett are with a team full of talent whose main goal always has been to unseat the Heat.
“When we first started this thing, they were the big bullies on the block, and we had to come in and try to impose our will,” Wade said of those old Celtics team, “and it took us a while to get there, but I think eventually we did.”
Wade joked about burying Pierce and Garnett, but the Heat, of course, isn’t a team of youngsters either. In fact, the defending back-to-back champions have an older average age than the Nets.
At 30.6 years old, the Heat and Dallas Mavericks were the oldest teams in the NBA this season, according to basketball-reference.com. The Nets were third oldest at an even 30.0.
And then there’s this: Both Wade and Garnett missed the same number of games this season (28).
Wade has played Pierce and Garnett three times in the playoffs, and this will be James’ fifth time in seven years to square off against Pierce in the postseason. James lost to Pierce and Boston twice before joining Wade in Miami.
Overall, James’ postseason record against Pierce is 13-12. Mismatches and strategy likely will be a focal point as this series progresses, but James said he has played Pierce’s teams enough in the postseason to know “it’s not about X’s and O’s.”
“It’s just about getting out there and playing as hard as you can defensively and making timely adjustments and winning,” James said.
Those are things the Heat failed to do this season against the Nets. Brooklyn swept the Heat 4-0 in the regular season and also defeated the Heat twice in the preseason.
In the four regular-season losses, the Heat averaged 15 turnovers with James committing 17 overall. Limiting turnovers was a point of emphasis in the first round. The Heat averaged 10.5 giveaways per game against the Bobcats.
Of course, that was a long time ago.
“We haven’t played since last Monday, but we’ve been in that gym every day,” James said. “But I think it’s fun to feel like you’re back a part of the playoffs.”
The Heat’s seven-day break between playoff series was spent conditioning and battling against one another as if it were preseason-training camp.
Last season, the Heat had a long break after sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks and then lost to the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the second round.
For Bosh, the long layoff was more difficult to overcome mentally than anything else.
“[Against Chicago], we just kind of came into the game and just started playing. We weren’t really into it early, and they caught us on our home floor,” Bosh said. “[Tuesday] we’re really going to have to get ourselves pumped up from the jump and have to play our style of basketball.
“Especially against these guys. They’re going to want to play at their pace. They want to slow the ball down and really execute on the offensive end and really flatten you out on the defensive end. We have to make sure we’re moving the ball early and just come in with a really, really great sense of urgency and energy.”
A longstanding feud with Pierce and Garnett might be just the thing to kick start the Heat back into playoff mode.
“They beat us four times, and I don’t care if it’s by one point,” Wade said, emphasizing the close losses to the Nets this season. “At the end of the day it’s about getting wins, and they figured out a way to beat us four times, so we got to crack that code.”
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