Heat vs. Nets is more than a budding rivalry

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
12:35
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Beyond the personal histories and big names who are the basis of the rivalry, the Brooklyn Nets-Miami Heat matchup this season is a battle of philosophies.

The Nets are one of the biggest teams in the league and plan to use their jumbo size to attempt to beat up on their opponents, especially the Heat.

This is not only the case with their big men, but also with their guards and bench. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are one of the biggest starting backcourts in the league, not just in height, but in bulk, too. One of their trademarks from their first days together has been to use their size against smaller players by backing them down. The Nets also have size in reserves Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche.

The Heat, of course, have gone the opposite way. Though coach Erik Spoelstra bristles a bit when his team is branded as a “small ball” outfit -- because he believes it has the flexibility to play multiple styles -- it is clearly Miami's preference. It is for this reason the Indiana Pacers, another of the East’s bigger teams, have given the Heat a problem or two in the playoffs over the past couple seasons, and have led the Nets to go down this path.

When the Heat and Nets play Friday night in Brooklyn (ESPN, 8 ET), this strategy difference will play out for the first time this season. It will especially be highlighted by the Brook Lopez-Chris Bosh matchup that is sure to be a hint to how these two contenders fare against each other throughout the season.

Lopez, a 7-footer, is listed at 275 pounds, but that probably isn't accurate. He’s bulked up over the past two years and is now believed to be closer to 290 and, in the process, has become a load near the hoop. The argument could be made that Lopez is the best offensive center in the Eastern Conference and has moments where he just scores with pure force.

Bosh, who is 6-11, is listed at 235 pounds, but there’s a chance he’s lighter than that. While he didn't reveal his exact weight, Bosh said he’s as light as he’s been in several years after an offseason program led to cutting a little weight, while players he must guard such as Lopez and the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert have taken steps to bulk up.

“Yeah Brook is big, but speed kills,” Bosh said. “Where he wants to put us on the block and pound us, we want him to run and play fast. Something’s got to give.”

That has been the Heat’s philosophy for two years now, and putting Bosh at center and letting him deal with being overmatched at times is part of the trade-off. Lopez has the ability to get position on a player such as Bosh, but on defense, Lopez doesn't like to leave the paint area and often backs away from pick-and-rolls while Bosh routinely plays beyond the 3-point line. The Heat’s main power forwards, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier, also stay away from the hoop to create space and passing lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Heat believe this strategy is the way to go in the modern NBA, and the Bosh-Lopez dynamic is perhaps the best way to test it. There’s a chance that matchup could go far in determining which of these teams could end up representing the East in the NBA Finals this season. The Heat have other options, including Chris Andersen and potentially Greg Oden, but their roster is at its best when Bosh is in the game and playing what amounts to a hybrid center position.

“If we get to our game we feel that we have a better chance,” Bosh said. “I used to be there, wanting to gain weight and get bigger. It really means nothing. No offense to Brook, it doesn't mean anything in today’s game. You've got to get out there and guard the screen rolls and guard guys who are pretty fast. You have to have a nice mixture of both.”

Bosh gained weight as a younger player when he was with the Toronto Raptors, but began having knee problems. He lost it and has never looked back, convinced he’s on the right side of the league’s trends.

“It’s all about strength, it’s not about weight,” Bosh said. “You have to be built for a marathon because that’s what the NBA is.”

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