Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce agree: Nets can beat anyone in East

Nets forwards Kevin Garnett, left, and Paul Pierce

Nets forwards Kevin Garnett, left, and Paul Pierce confer while on the bench as the Nets face the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter of the Nets' 112-89 victory in an NBA basketball game in Denver on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. (Credit: AP / David Zalubowski)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With sweat dripping off his face, Kevin Garnett feverishly went through one of his typical vigorous jump-shooting regimens Friday, stopping once or twice to practice some cool-down free throws.

Paul Pierce stood on another court sipping a bottle of water, observing the final minutes of his team's final tuneup before the Nets hopped on their chartered plane and headed north across the border.

Their time, championship time, finally has arrived.

"This is what they play for," Shaun Livingston said of his two teammates before Saturday's first-round playoff series opener against the Raptors at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. "You start getting up in years like those guys have and this could re-energize them as well, understanding the season is such a long grind of 82 games. But now every game is important, every game is like the championship, because we are all playing for something. So we definitely are going to lean on those guys as well."

The slow trot of the regular season is in the rearview mirror, and even though objects may be closer than they appear -- in this case the upstart Raptors, who won the Atlantic Division title and earned the third seed -- Garnett and Pierce feel as if the sixth-seeded Nets have all the necessary pieces to contend for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

"I do. I do," Garnett said. "We have a lot of different weapons here, a lot of experience."

Between them, buddies Garnett and Pierce have 267 games of playoff action and 10,441 postseason minutes. For perspective: Joe Johnson has the third-most postseason experience on the team. He's amassed 2,674 minutes in 69 games.

"Coming into the postseason, starting yesterday and today, they really gave guys a lot of insight," Johnson said of Garnett and Pierce. "And you can tell how they prepare, the focus that's been there, they've kept everybody in order."

The Nets hope that championship pedigree and mental mettle -- part of the reason for their $200-million price tag in combined salary and luxury taxes -- will put them over the top against the Raptors.

All the adjustments and tweaks of last season's roster were geared toward giving the Nets more toughness, particularly with the way they got slapped down on their own floor by an injury-ravaged Bulls team in Game 7 of their first-round series a year ago.

"I think we're a different team," Deron Williams said. "It's a different group of guys. Like I said, we're more experienced. And guys that were here last year and were part of that Game 7 loss, we still feel that. We still remember that. We don't want to have that feeling again. We feel like [with] the moves we made this summer, we can still win a championship, and we feel like that's attainable."

The team finally feels whole again. Vets got some rest during the past week and Livingston is back from his three-game absence because of a sprained toe.

With the Nets' components all in place, Pierce agrees with Garnett that the Nets could be in for an extended run if things fall into place.

"I definitely do. It's just that the playoffs is a long grind," Pierce said. "Health is always going to be a factor. If we can stay healthy, I definitely believe that we can play with anybody in the Eastern Conference and we can beat anybody in a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference. You know, things just got to come together, and I think they are right now. We're full strength, and like Kevin says, 'Anything is possible!' "

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