On their first visit to Brooklyn, players and the coach of the defending champion Heat took a fresh look at the Nets and determined that they are a different team than they were a couple of months ago. In LeBron James' view, this is not necessarily a compliment.
James, setting foot in the borough for the first time in his life, made it clear right away that the Nets simply are trying harder for interim coach P.J. Carlesimo (13-5) than they had for Avery Johnson (14-14). It did not sound like he considered it a positive.
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"They're not doing anything different, they're playing with, I would say, more passion. They're playing more together, they're playing like they want to play for the coach," James said after his team's first shootaround at Barclays Center. "It sucks that Avery had to take the hit of them not wanting to play at a high level, but that's what it looks like to me.
"Their offense hasn't changed, or their defense. They've just picked up the intensity level. You can tell that they like to play for P.J."
He said it matter-of-factly while talking to reporters from a front-row seat at the arena just after noon. Still, it was a barbed shot.
For a while, the Nets proved him right, with an inspired second quarter that tied the score by halftime. But after that, James made the kinds of shots that really hurt: He was 4-for-5 from the floor (two three-pointers) with two rebounds and two assists in the pivotal 36-14 third quarter, when the Heat broke away for a 105-85 victory.
"We were looking forward to coming to this arena," James said after his 24-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist performance. "We wanted to put on a show for the crowd."
As that third-quarter run progressed -- James converting on a backboard-shaking alley-oop from Dwyane Wade, feeding Udonis Haslem for an old-fashioned three-point play -- Barclays Center sounded as if it were the Heat's home court.
Almost in anticipation of that, Miami players had earlier praised the Nets' new digs. "Very impressive. Two thumbs up," Shane Battier said. "This is good, good for the NBA. The Nets are competitive again."
Wade called the arena "phenomenal" and said of the Nets, "This is a very good team. They're going to be right in the mix in the Eastern Conference."
Except for the game itself, it was a day to be generous for the Heat.
"You add new players, talented new players, and you put them into a team concept, more often than not, it doesn't happen right away. It's a microwave society, sports in particular, that the results have to be now, but it takes time to build chemistry," said coach Erik Spoelstra, whose father, Jon, once was the Nets team president and realized the franchise was so lacking in identity that he tried unsuccessfully to change its name to New Jersey Swamp Dragons.
"That," the coach said, "was a transition period for them."
The Nets have had a better transition lately, but it still left them well short of beating the Heat.