Nets-Miami rivalry heats up, and it's only the preseason

Nets' Chris Johnson attempts a shot past Miami

Nets' Chris Johnson attempts a shot past Miami Heat's Roger Mason Jr. as time runs out during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game at Barclays Center. (Oct. 17, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

The weirdness of the situation wasn't lost on Jason Kidd minutes before a replica red, white and blue jersey was pulled up into Barclays Center's upper reaches. "I don't know if anyone has had their number retired,'' the Nets' coach joked Thursday night, "and had to go to work.''

On the night when Kidd's jersey was lifted to the rafters, the Nets hoped to prove they might have raised something else: the stakes of a potentially blossoming rivalry with the two-time defending champion Heat.

With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce now in Brooklyn and the Nets looking to chase down Miami, the expectation is simple: The feud is going to transfer.

All one needed to do was hear Garnett's terse response to LeBron James essentially calling him and Pierce hypocrites for leaving Boston after Garnett and Jason Terry voiced their displeasure with Ray Allen's free-agent departure to Miami.

"Tell LeBron to worry about Miami," Garnett said after the Nets' 86-62 win over the Heat. "He has nothing to do with Celtics business.''

James said he's done talking about other teams and wouldn't even entertain two questions about the Nets, probably thinking he offered up more than enough 24 hours earlier.

"The first thing that I thought was like, 'Wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston and now these guys are leaving Boston,' '' James said Wednesday. "I think it's OK. I don't mind it, but there was a couple guys that basically [criticized] Ray for leaving, and everybody else is leaving.''

Allen chose to leave on his own accord after the 2011-12 season. Then Pierce and Garnett were traded to Brooklyn, though Garnett had to be persuaded to waive his no-trade clause.

The Heat can't deny that the Nets should be a vastly improved unit from the one that got blown out in their three games against Miami last season, losing by an average of 21 points.

"They had a terrific summer,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's not easy to accumulate that type of talent and have that many All-Stars on the same team, and you can feel the excitement from the offseason they had. So we respect that . . . We knew that an organization like this wouldn't stand pat, that they would push to get better.''

Said Dwyane Wade: "They did what they said they were going to do. They want to compete for a championship, so they've got the veteran guys that they feel can do that for them."

Still, there's no blood feud with the Heat in Garnett's mind. Not yet, anyway. "We've just played one game," he said. "Rivalries are usually teams that have continuously met in the Finals or in very important games, not in the regular-season games. Two good teams played tonight, two good teams will play continuously and whatever it evolves to will probably be dependent on the success of either team.

"I don't think you could consider this a rivalry last year or the years before. Now that both teams are dominant teams and have the potential of being dominant, I think that's way before the curve, if you will."

A preseason game minus key players wasn't going to serve as a precise indicator, but judging by the early intensity and Pierce's playoff-like hard foul on James, neither side will be exchanging holiday cards. "When you've got the defending champs coming in here," Pierce said, "and you got a chance to play them and kind of see where you're at as a measuring stick, even though they've got some guys out, we've got some guys out. We are trying to work on our stuff, try to see where we're at. It was good to just kind of get a feel where we are at."

And send a note to the Heat and others around the NBA to let them know these aren't last season's Nets. Pierce thinks they'll be a hard-nosed group of grinders. "That's going to be our identity," he said. "It's a message to the league."

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