Let the fun begin. The Brooklyn Nets take on the Miami Heat on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET) and will be looking to steal home-court advantage away from the two-time defending champions in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at AmericanAirlines Arena. Here’s what we’ll be watching for:
Striking first: The Nets, the most expensive team in NBA history -- more than $190 million, including record luxury-tax penalties -- are heavy underdogs in this series despite going 4-0 against the Heat during the regular season. And that’s what makes Game 1 so important. Miami got a lot of rest after sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats but could come out rusty due to the long layoff. It’s imperative Brooklyn gets off to a strong start.
Containing the King: Who guards LeBron James (first-round averages: 30 PPG, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2.3 steals, 55.7 field goal percentage)? Shaun Livingston? Joe Johnson? Paul Pierce? Andrei Kirilenko? Alan Anderson? Probably a combination. Livingston and Kirilenko, in particular, played some solid defense on James this season. It’s going to take a team effort to stop the unstoppable. Likewise, how will the Heat guard Johnson (21.9 PPG, 52.3 field goal percentage in the first round)? With James, to take away Johnson's size advantage in the post? Johnson was unstoppable in Round 1.
Foes to the end: Pierce and Kevin Garnett have faced James in 25 playoff games. The Boston duo is 12-13 against him. Pierce and Garnett are going to have to play huge roles for Brooklyn. The Nets are going to count on them for leadership, toughness, defense and timely scoring. Facing the best always seems to bring out the best in Pierce. Will KG’s minutes restriction return?
Shot up: Deron Williams (16.9 PPG, 5.6 APG, 41.3 field goal percentage) received a cortisone shot and an anti-inflammatory injection in his left ankle before Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors. Williams says he’s OK, but he’ll have to show it on the court. He needs to outplay Mario Chalmers and perform at an All-Star level if Brooklyn is going to upset Miami. Williams can’t afford to have an up-and-down series.
Starting five: Nets coach Jason Kidd wouldn’t reveal his starting lineup on Tuesday morning, but Livingston is expected to rejoin the starting five after coming off the bench in Games 6 and 7. Anderson started in place of Livingston. But Livingston made a huge impact against the Heat during the regular season.
Keys to a W: The Nets must dictate pace while limiting the Heat’s second-chance and transition opportunities. Brooklyn’s bench must rise to the occasion -- something it didn’t really do for much of the Toronto series. The Nets must run the Heat off the 3-point line while hitting some triples of their won. And down the stretch, someone needs to make some clutch shots -- whether it's Johnson, Pierce or Williams.