The Cavaliers-Heat “rivalry” never really was one. It had the potential to be unique because of LeBron James. Because of him, it could have become similar to the late 90's Heat-Knicks rivalry after Pat Riley decided to leave New York and come to Miami. But while LeBron was a Heat, there really was no rivalry because the Cavs at that time were no match against the Big 3 Heat. The Heat’s real rivals at the time were teams like the Celtics, Pacers and Bulls.
Cleveland fans and their owner Dan Gilbert sure hated the Heat and LeBron when he was here, though. When the Heat played in Cleveland back then, the Cavs crowd would regularly boo LeBron whenever he touched the ball. But, on the court, things were much tamer. The Heat would win all but one of the 14 games against Cleveland during the 'Big 3' era including 10 in a row from 2012 to 2014.
Then, LeBron went back to Cleveland. Although the 2014-16 Heat weren't as bad a team as the 2010-14 Cavs and the games were much more competitive, there was no bad blood between the teams. In both cases, the teams should have been natural rivals because of how big of a star LeBron is. But, watching the games, they seemed like any ordinary regular season match up. Games would begin and end with hugs, handshakes and smiles regardless of the outcome. Also, like the Big 3 Heat, the Cavs’ real rivals were teams like the Warriors and to a lesser extent the Raptors and Hawks.
In the 'post-LeBron' era, the Heat and Cavs have faced each other 9 times. The Heat are 5-4 against Cleveland in that span including last night’s game, a win, in Miami. Including last night, LeBron has only missed two of those games and both times it was to rest.
The two teams have never faced each other in the playoffs despite being in the same conference and both teams consistently making the postseason since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were drafted in 2003. There have been some epic regular season games between the two teams when Wade and James were at the height of their prime but none of any significance.
Now, Wade and Bosh are gone. There are many new faces on both teams. The Cavs just signed Derrick Williams last month. Williams started the season with Miami but was cut from the team in February. They also just recently signed Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut. Before signing Derrick Williams, they traded for sharpshooter Kyle Korver. The Heat signed a bunch of free agents after several from last season walked away from the team. One of the free agents they signed was former Cav Dion Waiters. So, there are a few players who have been on both teams, including James Jones, adding another layer of intrigue to this matchup.
The fact that these two teams might meet in the playoffs is one thing. That combined with the former players from both sides give it the illusion of a rivalry. Just using that, the media can hype it up like they tried to do with the Warriors and Thunder after Kevin Durant left but it isn't enough. You just end up with a run of the mill game most of the time. What truly makes a rivalry is a little bad blood. Until last night, there really wasn't any between the players. The last game was physical with guys getting knocked around but, for the most part, it was another run of the mill NBA regular season blowout.
Then, Rodney McGruder dunked on Channing Frye with about a minute left in the game and decided to do this:
Rodney McGruder finishing the win strong! pic.twitter.com/aFxK064yFX— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 5, 2017
Notice the little shove to the back of Fry from McGruder after his put-back slam. JR Smith, who was sitting on the bench in street clothes due to an injury, did not like what he saw. After the buzzer, he "discussed" it with McGruder as well as Dion Waiters and things got a little heated. JR Smith had to be held back by at least two men to keep him from confronting Heat players and Dion Waiters had to be physically restrained by Heat teammates as well for the same reason.
This was the scene as the clock wound down to end the game:
It took about 7 years since its natural beginning, but it is possible that the Heat-Cavs "rivalry" has finally started to heat up and get interesting.
The two teams meet again Monday night in Cleveland. It will be an important game for the Heat in their hopes to make the playoffs. It will not be a meaningful game for the Cavs in that respect as they are expected to easily secure their division and at least a top 2 seed in the East. But, it should be a very interesting game to watch and I'm sure many eyes outside of Miami and Cleveland will be watching it.
It doesn't have the same feel as a Knicks-Heat rivalry but something is brewing here. We'll see what happens Monday night. It will be a totally different game with LeBron and Kyrie expected to start and Bogut expected to make his Cavs debut. More importantly, though, is the fact that JR Smith might play as well. Yes, that is now probably more important than a brand new player making his debut for them and two mega stars returning.
After that, the two teams meet one last time in the regular season on April 10th, the penultimate game of the season for both teams. This could be the start of a bitter hard fought inter-conference rivalry that could spill into this year’s playoffs. Well, one can only hope for as much.