Anyone who said this would not be a proverbial "statement game" knew what they were talking about. Before the first Heat-Nets meeting of the season, LeBron James went out of his way to not make any statement, which, of course, did not prevent him from speaking volumes.
Early Friday evening, long before he was booed loudly and cheered somewhat at different times, and well before he hit a three-pointer that left the Heat just short in a 101-100 loss to the Nets at Barclays Center, James had said: "I don't know. I worry about our team. I'm not answering no questions about the Nets. KG already told me to worry about my own team."
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That was a loaded reference to new Net Kevin Garnett having said during the preseason -- in response to early barbs from James -- "Tell LeBron, 'Worry about Miami.' "
After he scored a game-high 26 points in a game-high 42 minutes, James reiterated that stance. When someone asked him if he was impressed by the team that galvanized a full house in its home opener, the Heat superstar said: "I don't know. I'm not going to comment on any other team in the NBA, OK? They won. They're 1-1 and we're 1-2."
This time, though, he seemed to have trouble holding back a grin. Yes, he knows he caused a firestorm when he said Garnett and Pierce were hypocritical for leaving Boston after criticizing former Celtic Ray Allen for jumping to the Heat. No, James does not want to escalate a battle of words. But it seemed that he is willing to let the whole thing play out on a basketball level. No one knew better than the best player in the world that it was good basketball, too.
"They came out with a little more sense of urgency from the start and in the third quarter, and that's what kind of dug us a hole," James said. And maybe just like the Nets fans who couldn't help but be dazzled by some of James' plays, he couldn't stop himself from dispensing compliments for a team he swore not to talk about.
"Those guys hit some big shots. Double P hit some big shots," James said, referring to Pierce. "Joe [Johnson] hit some big shots, [Andray] Blatche gave them some good minutes off the bench. They've got a really good, balanced team."
It is hard to call this a rivalry inasmuch as it was the first Heat-Nets game won by the Nets in 14 tries. Nor is the Nets' older roster quite like the Heat's star amalgam in 2010-11. Dwyane Wade said, "When we came together, it was kind of smack dab in the midst of our prime."
Still, you have to wonder if the Nets' size might prove a problem for the Heat. James wasn't buying that.
"It's not how tall you are, it's what's inside," James said on a night when the Nets had the last word.