And now they know: It's Heat vs. Nets
MIAMI -- For the last week, the Miami Heat were waiting and watching, resting and recovering.
The mode changes now.
A new opponent, finally, awaits -- and it's a team that befuddled the Heat like no other this season.
The Heat will face Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference semifinals, which start Tuesday night in Miami. Brooklyn punched its ticket by winning 104-103 at Toronto in Game 7 of their first-round series Sunday, setting up a matchup that won't be hurting for intrigue especially after the Nets swept four meetings between the clubs during the regular season.
"We're about tired of practice, tired of whatever coach can think of to make us do," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Sunday. "We want to get back on the court, about ready to get our rhythm back, get back out there in the playoffs."
Miami worked out early Sunday, wrapping up even before the 1 p.m. tip of the Nets-Raptors game in Toronto. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made the call to practice early in large part so his team could focus again on itself, then spend Monday working on things specific to the opponent.
Besides, much of Miami's prep work will be centered on its own game, Spoelstra said.
"Our habits, that'll be the most important thing," Spoelstra said.
The rest-versus-rhythm argument is one that's been waged plenty around the Heat in recent postseasons, since by now it's hardly uncommon for Miami to have long breaks between postseason rounds. By the time Game 1 against Brooklyn starts, eight days will have passed since Miami finished off its first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats.
It's hardly been a vacation for the Heat, however.
"We've had two days off in eight days," Heat forward LeBron James said. "We've had six work days and we definitely went after it."
James spent much of the week dealing with a sore thigh, courtesy of a collision he got the worst of in Game 4 against the Bobcats. After days of treatment, he pronounced himself ready to go and said he expects to be somewhere near 100 percent for Game 1.
The last time James felt that good? "On my honeymoon," he quipped.
If the Heat had a preference on their next opponent, it wasn't voiced openly. Several players said as the regular season wound down that they expected to see Brooklyn at some point in the playoffs.
Brooklyn took two preseason games from the Heat, then went 4-0 in the regular season -- with three of those games decided by a single point, the other in double overtime.
"They're a different team in the playoffs," Brooklyn's Paul Pierce said.
Meanwhile, the Heat hasn't lost to the Raptors in the last four years, coinciding from when Chris Bosh left Toronto in the summer of 2010 to be teammates with James and Wade in Miami.
Still, Bosh said he wasn't rooting.
"Even if you do have a preference, be careful what you ask for," Bosh said. "That's what I've learned throughout my career. There's no such thing as a good matchup. Whoever you play is going to be very difficult and you're going to have to play good basketball."
The scenario now is a familiar one for Miami.
The Heat swept the first round last year, waited and waited for their next opponent to emerge, watched Chicago advance in a road Game 7 (against Brooklyn) to face them -- and then looked rusty in dropping Game 1 to the Bulls before ultimately advancing 4-1.
Spoelstra said Miami won't be fretting over the rust factor this time.
"You don't want to necessarily obsess about that," Spoelstra said. "We went back and looked at it. Sometimes you can talk yourself into that. Possibly, in the Chicago game, there was a little bit of that, but we still had a six-, seven-, eight-point lead going down the stretch in the fourth quarter. You can't pin it on that. It's a convenient excuse."
James had already studied five of the six Brooklyn-Toronto games before Sunday. By now, he knows what the Nets will want to do against Miami.
"We'll start to prepare mentally tonight," James said after practice. "We'll start getting ourselves ready tomorrow in practice and then get going on Tuesday."
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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