WITH the Miami Heat given Saturday off by coach Erik Spoelstra, there was no need to answer the question that never results in an honest answer, or any answer, anyway:
Who would you rather face in the next round?
The question will answer itself in today's Game 7 between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre, the winner to arrive at AmericanAirlines Arena for Tuesday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But let's be real: There is a reason the Heat executive suite has been stocked with Canadian Club for the weekend, a reason Canadian bacon and Tim Hortons will be featured at the player brunch today, a reason Spoelstra will flip a loonie to decide which team defends which basket during today's practice.
The Heat not only swept the four-game season series from the Raptors, but have won the past 15 meetings, never losing to Toronto during the Big Three era.
By contrast, the Heat went 0-4 against the Nets this season, losing both pre-season games to Brooklyn as well.
You do the math.
Spoelstra, of course, won't.
"Typically in this league, it just matters about you," he said before giving his team Saturday off. "You can do case studies whether things translate from the regular season to the post-season. But even dial in deeper, it just doesn't from one series to another, or one game to another, or a quarter to another. It's a whole different ball game in the playoffs."
The Heat have created their own case studies since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together these past four years, turning regular-season struggles against the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks into post-season success, at times relatively easy post-season success.
So surely if it's the Nets who arrive Tuesday, there will be the typical bravado of welcoming the challenge, playing the team supposedly built for this moment, the type of luxury-tax scoundrels that had Micky Arison voting against this current collective-bargaining agreement. Blah, blah, blah.
Don't kid yourself. The reality is they hope the Raptors aren't extinct by Monday.
Yes, DeMar DeRozan is a justifiable all-star, Kyle Lowry as legitimate as any Eastern Conference threat at point guard, Jonas Valanciunas far more in the pivot than anything the Nets offer.
But it's simply not what Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko bring in terms of playoff savvy.
"Whatever team you play, you've got to understand the game they play and don't try to play their game," Wade said amid his own playoff watch. "You have to play your game. So Toronto's up and down; you don't want to play that game. Brooklyn is slow down; we don't want to play that game so much. You've got to try to play your game."
The reality is it would be easier for the Heat to slow down the Raptors, or at least keep pace, than speed up the Nets.
Against the Raptors, the matchups could be more traditional, perhaps even minutes for Greg Oden against Valanciunas.
Against the Nets, it would be difficult to go with Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup. If he defends Garnett, then it's Bosh against Pierce or Johnson or perhaps Shaun Livingston (if he starts) at the outset. On the other end, Garnett could defend Bosh, with Pierce biding his time against Haslem.
That's not to say James, Wade and Bosh couldn't and shouldn't wear down either opponent, especially an opponent coming off a seven-game series, with no more than one day off between games in the second round.
It's just that in this case, the Canadian exchange rate appears more favourable for the Heat.
-- Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)