The hype was there in the preseason for the Nets and the Heat.
There were a few hard fouls, criticism by LeBron James about certain players “leaving Boston” and a response by Kevin Garnett telling the game’s best player to “mind his business.”
The real deal comes Friday night for the Nets, who have dropped 13 straight to the Heat, 17 straight to James and nine in a row against James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
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The last meeting was a 20-point loss at the end of January when James called out the Nets during that morning’s shootaround for quitting on head coach Avery Johnson after 28 games.
Jason Kidd, who will not coach the team due to a DWI suspension, shrugged off any sense that this will be a statement game.
"It's game two,” Kidd said after Thursday’s light practice. “So if you're saying game two is a statement game then you're missing the process. So this is a marathon, a journey and we have a long ways to go. It just happens that we're playing the Heat tomorrow to find a way to get a win and to protect home. So you've got the world champs in, we've got our hands full.”
Point guard Deron Williams took the same tact as Kidd, focusing on the steps to improve from Wednesday.
“I’m not really worried about Miami,” he said. “We’re worried about us; we’re worried about what we’re doing over here and we’re just trying to get better. We lost the first one and now we look at film today and try and get better through that and get ready to go tomorrow.
The only player that agreed with the line of questioning about it being a statement game was center Brook Lopez.
“I think it will definitely be a statement game. It’s going to be a great benchmark for us. We absolutely believe we’re capable of competing with them and that’s something we’re going to want to be doing down the line, obviously, in the playoffs. So we’re definitely anticipating a high-energy, important game.”
The Nets have struggled with the energy aspect of facing the Heat recently. Last year they were blown out three times, mostly was due to their inability to play well in the third quarter when the Heat outscored them by 49 points in the three games.
Still it’s not like some Nets haven’t beaten James and the Heat. Besides Paul Pierce and Garnett beating James when he was with Cleveland in the 2010 playoffs, Kidd knocked off James in the 2011 NBA Finals with the Mavericks on a team that also had Jason Terry.
"He's a totally different player than when I faced him,” Kidd said. “He's even gotten better. When we faced him we just got lucky. Now he's the best player on the planet. You just try to make it tough, tip your hat if he makes a tough shot. He's going to make plays offensively and defensively so you just try to limit turning the ball over as a team because that's where they're at their best in the open court.”
Kirilenko excited to guard James
Back injuries can be tricky things so players have to be absolutely certain the injury has passed. For Andrei Kirilenko, that passage took place Thursday when he took part in various drills in practice.
He came through those fine and declared himself ready to return from the back spasms that cost him four preseason games and Wednesday’s season opener.
“I got the green light,” Kirilenko said. “I'm not sure how many minutes I'm going to play, but it's definitely worth a try.”
Kirilenko was a little out of breath after doing some two-on-two drills but he grew excited when discussing the prospect of facing James, who he has defended well at times and compared to guarding Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
“I would say Durant and Kobe [are tougher to guard], because they’re very motivated to play with the ball,” Kirilenko said. “LeBron is very unselfish. He’s way unselfish. He will pass it as soon as the guy’s open. Kevin and Kobe, unless the guy is wide open, they will keep going at you. That’s why it makes it twice harder to play against those guys.”
Statistically, Kirilenko’s assessment is not incorrect. James has 21 assists in two games while Durant scored 42 points on 24 shots Wednesday.
Williams ramping up minutes
The plan for Deron Williams was to limit his minutes Wednesday to protect his right ankle but the strategy did not necessarily mean sitting out the fourth quarter.
It just happened to develop that way due to early foul trouble for backup Shaun Livingston. Williams wound up scoring seven points and nine assists.
Williams appeared for 22 minutes but none came after the third quarter and sitting for so long could ruin any continuity.
“We haven’t talked about it but that’s something I’ll definitely try to bring up. It’s just tough, like I told everybody yesterday. It’s hard for me to sit for 20 minutes, 30 minutes and then go out and play the end of the game.”
Williams has played in just 33 minutes so far, including 11 minutes in preseason.
"Going into the game we knew he was going to be limited minutes wise and we're going to build on that,” Kidd said. “To roll him out the first night playing 30 minutes, putting that type of pressure on him, it's just not fair. It’s 82 games so you have to work him back in and for tomorrow for him to build on that.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.