When Nets general manager Billy King put this team together, he did it with one eye on the Heat, knowing that if the Nets were going to be true championship material, they would have to get past the two-time defending champs at some point. Now they're about to get their shot.
Here's a breakdown of the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup many wanted to see after watching the sixth-seeded Nets knock off the second-seeded Heat in all four regular-season contests:
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As proved again in their first-round series with the Raptors, the Nets are hard to beat when Deron Williams is on his game. When he's aggressive from the start, gets into the lane, breaks down the defense and gets to the rim, it opens so many different avenues. Joe Johnson is as clutch and steady as they come: He averaged 19.5 points and made 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts against the Heat this season. Toss in Marcus Thornton, who averaged 10.5 points and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in the Nets' last two games against the Heat, mix in the versatility and length of Shaun Livingston on both ends of the court, and it could cause fits for Miami. But remember, the Heat has Dwyane Wade, and even though he sat out 28 games and missed 11 of the last 12 in the regular season as part of the Heat's maintenance program, he's still got game. The challenge presented by Mario Chalmers is different from Toronto's Kyle Lowry. He isn't asked to do as much but is a big shotmaker and seems to be at his best in the postseason.
When you feature LeBron James, whom many call the greatest basketball player in the world, you're in pretty good shape. Get this: He averaged 30 points in the Heat's first-round series sweep against the Bobcats. And as soon as you start focusing on him too much, that's when Chris Bosh starts going crazy. Paul Pierce accepts the challenge of taking on James. Having Andrei Kirilenko to defend James also helps. Kevin Garnett's feistiness and the offensive skills of Andray Blatche are big boosts inside for the Nets. Mason Plumlee's athleticism also could be hard for Miami to handle. The Nets' depth and versatility up front typically would give them an edge against many teams, and it surely will be a good item in their toolbox. But James' unbelievable skills make it awfully tough on anyone.
The last team to beat the Heat in a playoff series? That would be the Mavericks, who were led by a guy who happens to be coaching the Nets at the moment. Jason Kidd played coy at first, as if he had little to do with Dallas winning the crown in 2011 -- "I just happened to be on the team," he said -- before adding: "It was a great experience. It was a long time ago, but we had a great opportunity to win a championship and we took advantage of it.'' Kidd made a brilliant adjustment in Game 6 against the Raptors by inserting Alan Anderson into the starting lineup over Livingston to get better spacing, and he stuck with it in Game 7. He wasn't sure Monday if he'll change things up and put Livingston back in with the starters, though it seems like a good possibility, given that Livingston is a more solid defender. Kidd is going to have to match wits with Erik Spoelstra, who's proved to be one of the brightest minds in the league. He's posted a 54-29 postseason record since taking over in 2008-09, the highest winning percentage during that span.
The Nets will give the Heat a good scare, but those four regular-season wins over Miami certainly got the Heat's attention. That could spell doom for the Nets. Miami is extremely motivated to prove it was a fluke. Heat in six