BROOKLYN -- Ninety minutes prior to the tip of Wednesday's Brooklyn Nets-Miami Heat game, the media was huddled outside of the visitors' locker room waiting to meet with Erik Spoelstra. The team was just arriving, and all but one of the players passed by the media and entered the locker room, poised and game-ready.
The last to enter, LeBron James, had walked down the hallway toward the media, providing them with his own entrance music. And just before he entered the locker room he stopped. James, who was making his Brooklyn debut, smiled from ear-to-ear and shouted, "He here!"
Across the way, the Nets were feeling a bit optimistic themselves -- a cautious optimism, is probably a better way to describe it -- as they were one win away from setting a franchise record for most wins in a month, they were carrying an 8-game home winning streak and their star center, Brook Lopez, had just been named as a replacement for Rajon Rondo on the All-Star team.
Those storylines, however, were competing with a handful of counteractive ones. Starting with the fact that the Nets entered the game 10-18 against teams with a winning record, that they had already twice been embarrassed by the Heat this season, and that Reggie Evans earlier in the day had essentially called the Heat's 2012 title a shame and compared LeBron James to Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche.
James responded to Evans' comments with a counter, taking a jab at the Nets for not playing hard under Avery Johnson.
"It sucks that Avery had to take a hit for them not wanting to play at a high level," James said earlier in the day, "but that's what it looked like to me."
When asked to respond, P.J. Carlesimo, who replaced Johnson as the Nets interim head coach took a long pause -- an uncomfortable one, really -- and said, "I think that LeBron, as much or more than anyone, is entitled to his own opinion."
Carlesimo then went on to say, "I don't know the exact quote, but I'm certainly not going to disagree with LeBron before we play him."
To top it off, Deron Williams had been "under the weather" and was dealing with flu-like symptoms. In fact, Carlesimo said prior to the game that Williams had "looked lousy" during the morning shoot-around, and that saying he was "under the weather" was probably putting it lightly.
The stage was set, this game had all the pageantry one could handle -- quite literally, as there was a press conference for the 2013 winner of the Miss America Pageant, Mallory Hagan, who sang the National Anthem.
You couldn't have asked for better theatrics off the court. On the court, however, was a different story.
While the Nets were able to hang with the Heat early on, carrying a 49-49 tie into the half, the game quickly got out of hand in the third quarter as LeBron simply took over. He scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the third, as the Heat outscored the Nets 36-14 in the quarter, thus ending the night early.
In the third quarter, the Nets looked like a team that didn't even belong to be mentioned in the same breath as the Heat, in terms of title contenders in the Eastern Conference, and they knew they had blown a chance to show a nationally televised audience that they've "arrived."
After the game, the Nets locker room was quiet, with a number of players exiting early, even before it was open to the media.
Reggie Evans, gone. Keith Bogans, gone. Kris Humphries, nowhere to be seen. And so on, and so forth. All told, only four players stuck around to talk to the media. Williams, who is usually among the last members of the team to speak to the media, was dressed and ready to go as soon as the doors opened.
"This is a bad loss," Williams said. "We hoped to put a better effort out against these guys ... and just really prove that we could play with them.
"This definitely leaves a bad taste in our mouth."
Lopez, who was coming off the high of being named an All-Star earlier in the day echoed Williams' disappointment, saying after the game that the All-Star nod was "an honor," but he was not wanting to elaborate on his own personal accolades.
Two lockers down, Joe Johnson was at a loss for words.
He couldn't quite explain why it's been that they can't seem to hang with the Heat this season, saying they have to find a way put the loss behind them. "I feel that (we) are 20 points better" than the final score would indicate, he said.
Shaking his head, Johnson went on to say, "It's been tough. We have to get some practice time in, go over a few things." With the Nets losing three of their last four games, all to teams over .500 and all by 10 points or more, it certainly has been tough for this team.
The tough love, however, came from Gerald Wallace, who was the last player to meet with the media. He certainly did not hold back.
"They're the defending champions, but I don't think they're much better than us," Wallace said. "I don't think they're 20 points better than us. I'm not saying they can't beat us, but they're not 20 points better than us.
"They've embarrassed us three times," he continued. "What does that say for us as a team trying to be a championship team?"
And when asked about the Nets' collapse in the third quarter, he said, "Typical Nets basketball. We don't play together. Careless turnovers. We don't execute offensively. And defensively, we don't do anything. We don't defend. We don't guard the ball. We don't help each other out. It's the same story as it's been all season."
Of the three losses in the last four games, Wallace went all in, saying, "Those are games that we didn't actually lose. We got our asses kicked in all three of those games."
A different atmosphere for sure, after the game, in a locker room that just a few hours earlier was so pointed and ready to prove that they belonged in the conversation alongside Miami as a true contender in the East. The Nets believed they belonged, and while you wouldn't hear a one of them echo the comments made by Reggie Evans earlier in the day, it didn't help as they tried to make sense of the loss, while across the way, the King was taking great pride in his team's statement win.
"You can't just come out and say something like that versus a champion," LeBron said after the game. "No one knows what it takes unless you've done it. You can't sit here and judge and talk about a team winning a championship unless you've done it. (Evans) hasn't done it.
"Let me look at his numbers real quick ... he had no offensive rebounds," James said of Evans. "So we did our number on him."
Last night, Brooklyn belonged to LeBron James. And just as he entered the Barclays Center, declaring that he had arrived, he left the arena -- and the Brooklyn Nets -- wondering what had just happened.