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Friday, November 1, 2013
Starting Five: The Heat is on

By Mike Mazzeo

LeBron/Pierce
Can Paul Pierce & Co. contain LeBron James tonight? And how much does it matter?
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Is it a statement game? Or isn’t it?

Depends on who you ask.

But before we get to the conflicting answers from center Brook Lopez and first-year coach Jason Kidd, you should know the following:

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, who visit Barclays Center on Friday night, have beaten the Brooklyn Nets 13 straight times. LeBron James owns a 17-game winning streak against the Nets. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are 9-0 together against the Nets, winning those games by an average of 17.3 points.

Now that that’s out of the way ...

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.”

Kidd: “It’s Game 2. So if you’re saying Game 2 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.”

Both Lopez’s and Kidd’s points are valid.

The new-look Nets, with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, would love to send an early message to the Heat that they’re for real, that they should be taken seriously in the contender conversation.

At the same time, it’s early. Deron Williams is still on a minutes limit. Andrei Kirilenko is just making his season debut. The Heat are already being careful with Wade’s knees. The Nets are trying to find chemistry with seven new players on their roster.

Both these teams, in particular, know the value of health outweighs regular-season wins. The key is to be 100 percent for the playoffs.

Still, Brooklyn’s mindset is different this season.

“I don’t know if we felt we were a better team than the Heat last year,” Williams said in a sit-down with Kidd for ESPN's "SportsCenter" conversation. "And so I think in order for us to be able to beat them this year, we have to feel like we are a better team and we can beat them. And I think we do.”

That has to be music to the ears of KG and Pierce, two veterans who have had their battles with James and the Heat in the playoffs over the years. Given all the back-and-forth, it should be an intense game with a postseason atmosphere -- even if it is just Game 2.

Do you think this is a statement game? Let us know in the comments section.

In case you missed it: Kirilenko will make his Nets debut Friday night. Williams will hopefully play more minutes. AK-47 explained why LeBron isn’t his toughest one-on-one cover. Joe Prunty will once again coach the Nets in Kidd’s absence, as the Nets' head coach wraps up his two-game suspension for DWI.