Going to New York and not going to the Garden felt wrong from the start. If it's the playoffs, and if it's May, then, by all rights, the opponent should have been the New York Knicks.
Instead, amid the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets, when game nights meant crossing a bridge out of Manhattan, there was a certain bemusement with the long-time rival Knicks being on the outside, facing a somewhat bleak future, without a coach, without a draft choice in June, and, soon enough, possibly without Carmelo Anthony.
Yet, try as both teams did to create something Heat-Knicks in nature, Heat-Nets fizzled, Spike Lee far more docile on the Barclays Center sideline.
And now comes a reality just as stark as the playoff absence of the Knicks: The Nets' immediate future might be just as bleak, any notion of an emerging Heat-Nets rivalry likely to remain an abstract.
Make no mistake, when the Nets walked off the court for the final time Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, there were 28 other owners breathing a sigh of relief (we would say 29, but who knows what's going on in Donald Sterling's mind these days?). The last thing they needed was for Mikhail Prokhorov to be validated with his Steinbrenner-like $190 million roster spending spree.
While the Heat's 4-1 ouster of the Nets was not necessarily a repudiation of luxury-tax avarice, with Micky Arison's team also well into the tax, it at least made a statement about boundaries, Arison excising Mike Miller in the name of fiscal sanity while Prokhorov kept adding right through the trading deadline, when he took on more salary with the trade for Marcus Thornton.
With Kevin Garnett's 2014-15 expiring contract, Prokhorov still has avenues for greater tax spending, so there yet could be means to prop up something substantive behind the return of Brook Lopez and the possible addition of European star Bojan Bogdanovic. But the Nets essentially dealt away their draft future with the acquisitions of Garnett and Paul Pierce, as much draft outsiders as Phil Jackson's Knicks, without an unencumbered first-round pick until 2019, when Prokhorov likely will have moved on to his next amusement.
No, the Nets were a one-year creation, Garnett deteriorating before our very eyes, Lopez breaking down again, Deron Williams standing as little more than salary ballast on a pair of balky ankles. At best, the Nets can become the same iso-Joe operation that Joe Johnson led in Atlanta. Even in the diminished Eastern Conference, the Nets could fall to what they were before this season's spending binge, a one-round playoff presence, what with the Philadelphia 76ers' upward youth curve, the return of Derrick Rose to the Chicago Bulls, the Charlotte Bobcats' strides with Al Jefferson, the Detroit Pistons' takeover by Stan Van Gundy.
Heat-Nets was never Heat-Bulls, Heat-Celtics or even Heat-Knicks when it came to playoff tension. It is why Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh kept referring to Pierce and Garnett in Celtics tense.
Only much of even that competitive tension was gone. What made Pierce-Garnett so imposing in Boston was Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen alongside. The Nets had none of that, Johnson, even at this late-career stage, largely still an on-his-own presence, as he had to be in Wednesday's Game 5.
The irony is that on the night the Nets were eliminated, the Knicks lost out on Steve Kerr as coach.
New York basketball isn't what it once was.
Regardless of the borough.
To the Heat, both sides of the East River have largely become irrelevant.
In the lane
TOTAL RECALL: Replay review is good; partial replay review isn't. The NBA has a problem that is clear to the casual viewer, and now must be brought into focus by the league's officiating operation. To stop games, key games, potential season-deciding games to determine who last touched a ball before it went out of bounds was a major step forward. To allow those reviews to continue without allowing corrections over missed foul calls is where the process has to change. If it looks like a foul, can be viewed as a foul, clearly is a foul, then such an overrule has to be allowed, as well (and, yes, it certainly looked like LeBron James raked Paul Pierce's arm in the final seconds of the Heat's series-clinching win against the Nets). It is just another reason to have a centrally located review center at the league office, taking the pressure off the game officials to decide whether to correct their own mistakes. Too many times we've seen a foul as part of the replay process this postseason, only to be told there is nothing the referees can do about that part of the equation. The correct call is never the wrong call, no matter when it is noticed, or how it is noticed.
PAT HAND: Stan Van Gundy both stepped in for and stepped aside for Pat Riley while with the Heat as coach. The lesson he learned along the way was having a single vision. It is why he said the Detroit Pistons' coaching vacancy was so appealing, because it also came with personnel control. "I think the position gives us a chance to create the most unified organization in sports," he said during the Pistons introduction. "That's what the dual role is all about. I came into the NBA in an organization like that in Miami with Pat Riley running it and I think there are tremendous advantages there." Riley, of course, had the deep pockets of Micky Arison, as well. "I think what you do need to win is you need one voice and everybody all on the same page," Van Gundy said, "and I think it's hard to get when you have a lot of people in charge."
SHORT STORY: So why was Erik Spoelstra's pregame media session Wednesday all of 33 seconds, without a question? Because unlike some coaches, Spoelstra offers the courtesy of a post-shootaround media session earlier on game days, something that is not required by NBA media guidelines. In essence, Spoelstra makes himself available for television and radio stations to get what they need for their early-evening audiences in advance of games, as well as those looking for content on websites. What Spoelstra rarely does is divulge lineup information until required by the NBA just before tipoff. Knowing the answer is, "I'll submit my lineup card when required," there is little need to ask the question, just as Spoelstra's Eastern Conference finals starting lineup (the one where we expect Udonis Haslem to again start in place of Shane Battier) likely will be revealed about an hour before Sunday's opening tip of Game 1 in Indiana.
BROWN OUT: James never was going to play under Mike Brown in Cleveland--been there; failed with that--especially after thriving under Spoelstra. And while John Calipari would have at least added intrigue to James' potential free agency, the Kentucky coach effectively has ruled out an NBA return at the moment. No, Brown's dismissal in Cleveland was far more about placating Kyrie Irving than enticing James. (But when it comes to LeBron, if Oprah Winfrey were to purchase the Clippers, and if Magic Johnson were to come in as a partner there, and if Doc Rivers stays, and if Donald Sterling were to be quickly deposed . . .).
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