When LeBron James made the choice to leave the Miami Heat in favor of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers over a year ago, the Heat was the current Eastern Conference champion that had been obliterated by the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. As this 2015-2016 NBA season has started, much has changed with these two linked franchises.
Even though there were games featuring both teams after LeBron's departure, this meeting has a different feel. In an interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Dwyane Wade said that, "LeBron knows we're coming for him". That is a sentiment that was reflected in Miami's offseason, featuring Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, Amar'e Stoudemire, and rookie Justise Winslow. This type of dramatic retool has led many to hope for a Cavaliers-Heat playoff matchup.
Coming off of a loss in the NBA Finals to league MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers have championship expectations for the simple reason that they possess the four-time MVP LeBron James.
However, if not for strong play by newly re-signed forward Kevin Love during the first few months of the season, it is unclear how successful the Cavaliers could be. Two games into the brand new season, Love has been assertive on the backboards and impactful on the offensive end, as he returns to the court after his shoulder injury suffered against the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. In the loss to the Bulls on opening night, Love scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out four assists and swatted away two blocked shot. The very next night, Love put up 17 points and 13 rebounds in less than 30 minutes on the floor as the Cavs blew out the Memphis Grizzlies.
As for the Heat, this will be their chance to both show the Cavaliers that they pose a threat with their skill and depth, as well as building on their season-opening win as they defeated the Charlotte Hornets at home, with Chris Bosh scoring 21 points in his return from his lung scare that ended his season at the trade deadline last year. Rookie Justise Winslow had the moment of the night when he drove from the wing to dunk on three Hornets defenders. Winslow ended his first NBA game with five points, seven rebounds, two assists, and one poster.
This matchup is an exciting one with several storylines that may go on deep into the playoff months. But for now, this may be a continuation of the Miami-Cleveland grudge match that began with Miami's two victories last year and could evolve with their game tonight.
One thing is for certain, Pat Riley will be as intense tonight as ever before, and both teams will be looking to make statements. Miami should look to stake their claim to this year's Eastern Conference, and Cleveland will seek to remind the world in their home opener that they went to the NBA Finals for a very good reason.