The Miami Heat are two-time defending NBA champions. The Brooklyn Nets worked hard during the offseason to knock the Heat off their perch.
The two teams could well be talk of the NBA in the 2013-2014 season.
The gauntlet has already been thrown down, at least to a certain degree. The Heat and Nets will meet in a preseason game on Thursday and a total of three times in the next two weeks, including the Nets’ regular-season home opener on Nov. 1.
The Nets, fresh off a season in which they finished with a 49-33 record and placed second in the NBA Atlantic Division behind the New York Knicks, made wholesale changes during the offseason.
First, they handed over head coach duties to Jason Kidd, who played for the Nets for six-plus seasons. Kidd replaced interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, and becomes only the third person since the ABA-NBA merger to make his debut as an NBA head coach the year after retiring as an active player.
Kidd’s inexperience will certainly be called into question if the Nets stumble out of the gates, but he’s surrounded himself with quality assistant coaches who combine for decades of experience at the professional level.
In addition, the Nets added power forward Kevin Garnett and guard Paul Pierce in separate deals with the Boston Celtics. Former Celtic Jason Terry also adds a solid body in the backcourt.
The former Celtics trio joins a solid returning corps featuring Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
It’s the Boston connection that has already spurred jabs prior to the Heat and Nets meeting on Thursday.
Heat superstar LeBron James was pointed in comments made by both Garnett and Pierce after former Celtic Ray Allen left the Celtics to join the Heat last season.
At the time, Garnet said that he lost Allen’s phone number and Pierce said he hadn’t forgiven Allen for bolting to the Heat.
Now, James wonders if Garnett and Pierce aren’t guilty of the exact same thing, claiming that hypocrisy is clearly in play.
"I think the first thing I thought was, 'Wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston, and now these guys are leaving Boston,'" James said. "I think it's OK; I didn't mind it. But there were a couple guys who basically [expletive] on Ray for leaving, and now they're leaving.
"That's the nature of our business, man. I don't know what Boston was going through at the end of the day. I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc, KG and Paul did that as well. You can't criticize someone who does something that's best for their family."
James would certainly know—he took his own share of heat by joining the Heat, so to speak.
It seems apparent that the vitriol that previously existed between the Heat and Celtics has now been transferred to the Nets. That may not be tested during the preseason, but Nov. 1 will be a different story, at least in the eyes of Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
“Right now we’re still in preseason, we’re still in the mode of learning each other again and playing certain minutes,” Wade said. “It’s not Nov. 1. That will be a little different.”
The Heat-Nets matchup on Nov. 1 will be featured nationally on ESPN, so the entire country will have a chance to see if the two sides can build a rivalry worth watching.
Considering the war of words already started by James and the Heat, it figures to be a must-see matchup.