(October 28, 2013)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Nets coach Jason Kidd was being diplomatic, if not coy.
When informed that former NBA center, turned television analyst, turned actor, turned political activist Shaquille O’Neal said he believed the Nets could give the two-time defending champion Miami Heat a run for its money this season, Kidd deadpanned:
“I think that’s a great compliment, so we thank Shaq for that,’’ said Kidd. “That’s very kind words.’’
One wonders if Shaq would have made such a declaration had he known that not once this preseason – not in a game or practice – did the Nets put their starting five on the court. Not once.
With Tuesday morning’s practice the last before the regular season begins Wednesday night in Cleveland, it’s quite possible the Nets will begin their quest for the franchise’s first ever NBA title with a starting five that has not played together – not once.
“That’s the way the cards are dealt and you’ve got to play them,’’ said Kidd.
The cards have been marked; they’ve been messed through training camp and the preseason.
Deron Williams (right ankle), Jason Terry (left knee), Andrei Kirilenko (back), and most recently, Paul Pierce (toe), have all had spent too much time with veteran trainer Tim Walsh.
Unless Kirilenko can make it through a 5-on-5 practice Tuesday morning before the team heads to Cleveland, he will not play against Cavs.
“I want to play,’’ said Kirilenko. “When you miss a week, two weeks, you want to get better. You’re having preseason, you get into good shape, then you kind of get an injury. It’s not fun.’’
The fun, the quest, begins Wednesday night.
That grueling training camp; those grinding practices; the monotonous hours of shooting – all of the sacrifice and sweat goes on the line.
“It’s gonna be fun playing games that mean something,’’ said center Brook Lopez, who’s looking to build on his first All-Star game appearance. “These preseason games, they’ve been a good time to get a barometer. It’s definitely gonna go up during the regular season.”
It goes up quickly. After the Wednesday opener in Cleveland, the team that has ruled the NBA comes to Barclays Center Friday night for the Nets’ home opener.
Think the NBA knew what it was doing scheduling this showcase game between the Heat and Nets?
The Nets have made no secret of the fact that they believe they are capable of unseating the two-time defending NBA champs.
“I think we’re capable of doing whatever we want,’’ said shooting guard Joe Johnson. “Like I said, some of the additions that we’ve added over the summer with KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul, Jet [Jason Terry], Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, those guys help us bring a championship pedigree. So, the sky’s the limit for us.’’
Although the Nets have insisted that this team is not built with only the Heat in mind, it was clear in the two preseason games between the teams that Brooklyn-Miami could turn into a rivalry with an edge.
When the Heat played at Barclays Center on Oct. 17, the night Kidd’s No. 5 jersey was raised to the rafters, Pierce raised eyebrows with a forearm foul on LeBron James, preventing the reigning MVP from freight-training his way to a thunderous fast break dunk.
The Nets won that game, 86-62.
In the preseason finale, Williams returned to spark a dazzling offensive performance. The Nets, shooting almost 55 percent and scoring 40 baskets on 23 assists, showed the prolific potential of this offense with a 108-87 win.
“It’s scary, considering the fact that we’ve got a lot of guys with high IQs,’’ said Johnson. “And we have a lot of guys that can score, but capable of doing other things. That’s what makes us a pretty scary team.”
What’s scary is how much better James has gotten every season – smarter, stronger and more skilled.
But there are other teams in the Eastern Conference to be reckoned with.
Indiana has the experience of having gotten to the conference finals last season.
Chicago should be better with a healthy Derrick Rose. The Knicks think they have a chance.
“I think we can’t concentrate on Miami Heat and beating Miami Heat only,’’ said Kirilenko. “There’s so many great roster teams in NBA right now.’’
The team the Nets must remain focused on is the one with Brooklyn across the front of the jersey.
It will take a healthy 12, a hungry 12, a cohesive 12 to get to the NBA Finals.
“I’m looking forward to getting the season cranked up,’’ said Johnson. “But first and foremost I want all of our guys taking time to get healthy. We’ve got a few guys that are nicked up, banged up a little bit. We’ve got enough time for them to get back.”