LeBron James of the Miami Heat reacts in the first...

LeBron James of the Miami Heat reacts in the first half while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on in San Antonio, Texas. (June 13, 2013) Credit: Getty

They know this game against the Heat is meaningless for the most part, given this is preseason and all.

It's not like they'll have their full complement of players, not with the Nets probably sitting their All-Star point guard, their potential sixth man and also their versatile reserve forward. But even with Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko all expected to be sidelined when the Nets host the Heat Thursday night, there's going to be a different feel to their preseason contest -- and it's not just because coach Jason Kidd's retired red, white and blue jersey will be hoisted to the rafters.

When general manager Billy King pulled the trigger on the blockbuster deal to bring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Terry to Brooklyn, he did so with the Heat in mind, believing the Nets had to match up better with the two-time defending champs. The Nets got mopped by Miami in all three meetings last season, falling by an average of 21 points, and they surely hope that changes with their offseason acquisitions.

"I think the experience alone helps more than anything," Joe Johnson said after the Nets' 82-80 preseason win over the Celtics Tuesday. "But having a guy like Kevin and Paul out there, those guys have been through the wars, they've been through the battles, the trenches. Especially against that Heat team. So, they've probably got some stuff that we can learn from them."

All the way around, the Nets believe they've taken a step up, bringing themselves closer to challenging the Heat. Besides the championship pedigree of the trio of former Celtics, they bolstered their bench by bringing in the length of Kirilenko -- someone they can put defensively on LeBron James -- and an athletic point guard in Shaun Livingston.

"This is a completely different team," Andray Blatche said. "This team is way more aggressive on defense and we've got way more weapons on offense. Our communication is crazy on this team. With Kevin Garnett on the floor, our main thing is going to be defense first, and then offense stay in attack mode. Just definitely pound the ball down low with Brook [Lopez]against their bigs."

That's where Blatche believes the Nets may have an advantage. With Blatche starting alongside Lopez in place of a resting Garnett Tuesday, Blatche scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting and hauled in six rebounds during his 24 minutes.

Needing to improve their size on a cap-strapped budget, the Heat reached deep into the free-agent pool to grab center Greg Oden, who hasn't played in a game since 2009 because of multiple knee surgeries, to see how much he can eventually strengthen their interior.

But the Heat, of course, still has LeBron James, who's showing off a much-improved post-up game in the preseason. James' inside game provides the Nets with another opportunity to test some of their rotational concepts and see what needs to be tweaked.

"It's going to be game-like," Blatche said. "I know K.G. and all these guys are going to come with a lot of intensity because of their playoff history, and I know they are going to come back at us with the same kind of intensity. So, it's almost going to be like a real game."

Pierce cautions the Nets are far from a finished product for a variety of reasons, so he's not about to get too carried away with whatever happens.

"We're getting it together, but like I've said we don't know what our full potential is going to be," Pierce said. "Deron hasn't been healthy. We won't know our full potential until he gets back. He's going to be the engine that drives this. He's the point guard, he's an All-Star in this league. But I think we won't know until he gets healthy. So, we'll try to develop some chemistry while he's out, but then when he comes back, we'll have to figure it out once again."

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