The first time the Brooklyn Nets met the Miami Heat, the defending champs served a 30-point notice that a move into the five boroughs didn't necessarily mean a move into the East's elite. The second time they played, the Heat took over in the third quarter to end a five-game Brooklyn winning streak and kickstart a dismal December for the Nets that cost Avery Johnson his job. The Nets will get their final regular-season crack at taking down Miami on Wednesday, riding a 13-4 mark under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and welcoming a Heat team that's looked a bit shaky at times en route to a 7-5 record in January; a win would draw Brooklyn within two games of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
If that by itself sounds like high-enough stakes for Wednesday night's tipoff ... well, clearly your name isn't Reggie Evans. On Wednesday morning, the Brooklyn bruiser shared some thoughts on welcoming the defending champs with Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. Chief among them: That they're not really "champs," and that their MVP isn't really anything to write home about.
The Heat is just another team and LeBron is just another player to Reggie Evans, who indicated Miami’s title run last season is diminished because the schedule was shortened.
“It doesn’t prove nothing,” Evans told the Daily News when asked what it would mean to beat the defending champs. “That was a lockout season.” [...]
“Our team is defending the Miami Heat. If our team has to defend one person, LeBron isn’t going to score nothing. … LeBron is no different from Joe Johnson or Andray Blatche. No different,” Brooklyn’s starting power forward said. “People need help (on defense). Some people don’t need help. Everybody has to be double-teamed, it doesn’t matter who you are. You just have to stop LeBron in transition.
“He’s quick in transition. If you look at Joe Johnson — Joe Johnson has two or three people trying to stop him. Whoever is guarding him.”
First, let's dispense with the point on the "lockout season" — sure, Phil Jackson's made similar noise in the past about the San Antonio Spurs' 1999 title, but all 30 teams played under the same set of circumstances that year and last year and the Heat was the last team standing. (Besides, as CBSSports.com's Zach Harper notes, it's unlikely Evans would've forfeited his ring had his Los Angeles Clippers wound up hoisting the O'Brien instead of going out to the Spurs in Round 2.)
OK, with that done, we can kind of get what Evans is doing here — chopping the mythical bullies down to size a bit, refusing to give them too much respect, poking fun at them and downgrading this from a Big Game to Just One of 82. (Evans went on to tell Bondy, "Ten games from now you’re not going to thinking about this game.") And that's fine.
I mean, of course it's ridiculous to look at what LeBron James has been doing over the past two seasons (and has done as recently as two weeks ago) and say he's just somebody you have to check in transition — for the record, James ranks among the league's 11 most effective per-possession point producers in isolation, spotting up, handling on pick-and-rolls and off offensive rebounds, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data, and he's also been a monster (albeit in limited opportunities) rolling to the rim in the screen game, scoring on 12 of 16 chances. And of course it's ridiculous to say that Johnson (even though he's picked his game up over the past month) or Blatche (even though he's playing the best ball of his pro career in Brooklyn) are "no different" from the best player on the planet. Like, obviously, that's crazy talk.
But that's fine, because it's kind of Reggie Evans' job; he's supposed to punch above his weight class, act/talk reckless and try to bring things down. Like he did in comparing Rondo to a mosquito after the Nets' early-season "brawl" with the Celtics, it's Evans' way of in some way leveling the emotional playing field or searching for any possible advantage, a verbal analogue to his relentless pursuit on the offensive glass and his proven commitment to flopping. Sure, it's ridiculous and kind of annoying, but it's the kind of ridiculous and annoying that we'd all appreciate if it came wrapped in our favorite team's colors.
But Evans wasn't the only one spitting fire on Wednesday morning — Mr. No Different from Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche had some choice comments to share with Bondy, too, focused on the difference between the Avery-era Nets and the P.J.-era Nets:
“They are not doing anything different. They are playing with more passion, more together, they are playing like they want to play for their coach,” James said. “It sucks that Avery had to take the hit of them not wanting to play at a high level, but that's what it looks like to me. They haven't changed their offense, they haven't changed their defense. They've picked it up in intensity level and you can tell they like to play for P.J.”
To a certain extent, that's not entirely true — as others have written and broken down, there have been some differences in how Carlesimo's approached the game, including some tweaks in their half-court defense and an increased emphasis on featuring Brook Lopez in both the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game and on post-ups. But, I mean, on some level ... yeah.
Before the firing, guys like Deron Williams and Johnson often seemed like they were playing with diffused focus and not doing a good job of knocking down open looks; under Carlesimo, they've tightened things up, and the result's been better chemistry, more openings, better shot-making and more fluid play on both ends of the floor. Whether all of that's a result of getting rid of a coach they were sick of in favor of one they like, a product of getting a fully healthy Lopez back into the fold after missing time and recuperating from a foot injury, or a combination of both, it's inarguable that there's been a difference; as James sees it, the difference is that the team he saw twice earlier this season wasn't playing as hard as the team he's seeing on film now.
Even if that's true, I'm betting the Nets won't take too kindly to the suggestion that they basically walked through the end of Johnson's tenure; similarly, I'm betting James won't take too kindly to the suggestion that he's "no different" from two guys who don't really belong in the same conversation with him. Either way, it seems like a game that Evans said Wednesday was "not personal" might just wind up being the exact opposite.