BROOKLYN—Let the record show that if the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat develop into the Ali-Frazier of the NBA, the first jabs were thrown on Oct 17, before the teams met in a preseason game in a soldout Barclays Center.
As it should be, the defending champs, led by LeBron James, threw the first jab. The King suggested that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were hypocrites.
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James, without naming names, said that his current teammate, Ray Allen, got a lot of grief last year, when he left the Boston Celtics and signed a free agent deal with the Miami Heat.
One year later, KG, Pierce and Terry were traded from Boston to the Nets, a significant distinction that did not go unnoticed by Pierce.
“I left Boston?” said Pierce.
KG wasn’t nearly as diplomatic.
“Tell LeBron to worry about Miami,” Garnett said after the Nets beat the Heat 86-62. “He has nothing to do with Celtic business.”
This kind of rhetoric is great for sports talk radio but it doesn’t necessarily carry over onto the court.
In fact, James acknowledged that changing teams, for whatever reason, isn’t a big deal these days.
"That's the nature of our business, man,” he said. “I don't know what Boston was going through at the end of the day.
“I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc [Rivers, former Celtics coach], KG and Paul did that as well. You can't criticize someone who does something that's best for their family."
So we can all be friends, right?
Not so fast.
Here’s the bottom line. The Heat stars know full well that the trade that brought KG, Pierce and Terry to Brooklyn was done so for one reason and one reason only:
Dethrone the two-time NBA champs.
So when Dwayne Wade, who had been tossing bouquet’s about Nets Coach Jason Kidd’s leadership, was asked before the game if he felt those additions were enough to change the balance of power in the East, his smile faded like the Giants’ playoff chances.
“I’m not singing their praises over here,” said Wade. “I don’t know, but they’ll be very competitive with the personnel they’ve brought in.”
Competitive? The Nets were competitive last season. They made the playoffs.
But they weren’t killer competitive. They dropped a playoff Game 7 to the depleted Chicago Bulls, at home no less.
King, Wade, Chris Bosh and Co. has developed into cold-hearted basketball killers.
More than points, rebounds, assists blocked shots, that’s what the Nets believe they got when they brought in KG, Pierce and Terry.
They brought in veterans, schooled in the art of ripping out the heart of opposing teams in June.
Let the record also show that Pierce was the first player to transform words into action.
When James came charging down the court on a ‘No Fear’ drive, Pierce stood his ground, extended his forearms and took on The King.
James tumbled to the side. Pierce was called for the foul. The message he sent, however, was louder than the ref’s whistle.
“That’s going to be our identity,” Pierce said. “That’s a message for the league.”
The real messages, the ones that don’t default to the junk, won’t be sent and received until Nov. 1, when the Nets open their regular season home schedule against the Heat.
The Heat will pay another visit on Jan. 10. The Nets don’t play at Miami until March 12 and again on April 8 when playoff seeding and a possible Atlantic Division title could be at stake.
“I don’t think that you can measure the two [teams against each other],” Garnett said. “I’m just showing a lot of respect to the champs and their body of work and what they’ve built, and what they’ve done in the last couple [years].
“They’ve been together for awhile. This team is just newly assembled. I think until we get some more games under our belt to see what we are, as a team, then we can assess or you can compare teams. But until then, I don’t think it’s fair because of what they’ve done with that team.”
Not only is it unfair to compare the teams, it’s simply silly to predict the Nets-Heat rivalry will develop the same passion that the Celtics and Heat enjoyed.
That competitive hatred was drenched in playoff blood and sweat, and by late-season battles.
Draping KG, Pierce and Terry in the black and white of Brooklyn doesn’t make Nets-Heat a redux of Heat-Celtics, no matter how badly those players want that to be the case.
“We’re trying to install that here,” Pierce said. “They’ve taken what we’ve tried to accomplish the last couple years in Boston. We’re here in Brooklyn now, and it’s the same type of attitude.”
No, that attitude has to be instilled, first in the Nets and then in the games against the Heat. Because the fact is that Miami has owned the Nets.
The teams have met 100 times in the regular season. The Heat have won 59 times. They met nine times in the playoffs. The Heat have won eight.
The teams met three times last season with the Heat winning all three – by an average of 21 points.
Thursday night’s 86-62 Nets win was as meaningful as a proposal on the Bachelor.
The rhetoric Thursday night was entertaining. The foul by Pierce was worth noting.
But the Nets have yet to do anything on the court to get the Heat’s respect.
“Well, this will be a team that will be able to compete with the Heat, with the Bulls, with the Pacers,” Wade said, politely not yawning. “With all the good teams in the Eastern Conference, obviously they’ll be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.”
On paper the Nets are better this season. In their minds, the Nets are better.
But better than the Heat, equal to the Heat? Tell the Nets, for now, to worry about the Nets.