NEW YORK — There were six All-Stars on the floor when Nets-Heat tipped off Thursday night, with five more sitting out. It was a preseason game, but it was a taste of the star power that this matchup will feature this season.
If these two teams were to meet in the playoffs, this could be the first of 10 or 11 times they meet. They will face each other in Miami next Friday in their final preseason game, and then a week later in the Nets’ regular-season home opener (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The Heat won last season’s three meetings by an average of 21 points. The Nets were a good team, but just couldn’t match up with the champs. Things are are different now and on Thursday, we saw a hint of where Brooklyn may have an advantage.
Let’s first acknowledge that this was the second stinker in three days for the Heat, who got crushed in Washington on Tuesday. It was a lackluster effort to say the least. But it was also a reminder that Miami is at a size disadvantage against other Eastern Conference contenders.
Brooklyn was aggressive on the offensive glass from the start, tallying nine offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points in the first half. It’s no secret that rebounding is Miami’s one weakness and a big reason the Indiana Pacers took the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Nets ranked third in offensive rebounding percentage last season, with Reggie Evans the top individual offensive rebounder in the league. Well, Evans didn’t even see the floor in that first half. By game’s end, the Nets had outrebounded the Heat 53-31.
“They’re a big frontline,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “They have known rebounders. They have size at every position. So we need to do a better job of finishing rotations to block-outs.”
The Heat were without Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen. But Spoelstra was clearly displeased with the effort. There’s no reason to worry about another championship hangover yet, but the coach said he wanted to see more focus when his team reconvenes for shootaround on Saturday, before they face the Spurs.
One positive for Miami was that LeBron James‘ post game looked better than ever. On the second possession of the game, he posted Paul Pierce on the right block and drained a seemingly effortless turnaround jumper. Two possessions later, he posted Joe Johnson on the left block and this time used glass. In what was an ugly game for the Heat, James was still the best player on the floor.
Neither team executed all that well, but Brooklyn played with more energy and more edge, evidenced by Pierce’s body-check of James on a fast break. Whether or not Pierce was paying attention to James’ claim of hypocrisy among the former Celtics — he said afterward that he didn’t — there was clear tension on the floor.
If this game meant anything, it was for the Nets, who are trying to build something new and really have no idea of how good they may eventually be. Nets coach Jason Kidd, who had his jersey retired beforehand, called the matchup “a great opportunity to see where we are as a whole.”
Right now, the Heat are just looking to put their second championship behind them and gear up for another run.
“We’re just trying to continue to work our game,” said Wade. “We know we’re not where we want to be, they’re not where they want to be. And when we play them on November 1 they won’t be where they want to be and we won’t neither. There’s going to be so many opportunities to get a chance at each other. I’m sure it’ll be competitive every time. I think both teams will get better every time we play each other. and probably that last time, that last meeting, before we get into the playoffs and we play each other, you’ll see where both teams are at. We’ll see.”