MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James was welcomed at Dwyane Wade’s wedding last month. Udonis Haslem continues to maintain a friendship with his former teammate. Chris Andersen still wears his sneakers.
There’s no venom, no hatred, not even trash-talking.
There isn’t much of anything, to be perfectly frank.
So when the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers — James’ former team against James’ former-turned-current team — meet in a preseason game Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, it won’t be some sort of streetfight, one team enraged because the player who helped them to four straight NBA Finals left to go back to his hometown team.
Besides, it’s not like it counts, anyway.
“I’m sure everyone will try their best,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who raised some eyebrows Tuesday night when he said he hasn’t talked to James since he returned to the Cavaliers. “Not right now, but on Christmas Day.”
That’s the first “real” meeting with James as a Heat opponent again, when Cleveland visits Miami on one of the league’s biggest days, and surely that will be a matchup that commands much more fanfare than this one will. The Miami vs. Cleveland matchup in Brazil barely registered a blip when announced in April, and like most preseason games, the outcome of this one will likely be forgotten long before the regular season opens at the end of the month.
“I think everybody is very cognizant of the fact that LeBron is playing against his old team and playing against a team where he had such great success and they had such great success,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said Tuesday, before his team departed on its charter flight for Brazil. “And I’m sure, I’m sure, they understand that it’s a particular kind of game.”
Blatt was asked if it helps that the game will be played on a neutral site, far from Miami, even farther from Cleveland.
“I think it takes the pressure off of both sides, actually,” Blatt said. “I really do.”
It’s a game few people want to say much about.
James has downplayed the meaning of the matchup, perhaps in large part because there is no meaning to an exhibition game. Haslem simply smiled and said it’s merely a basketball game to him. Asked on Tuesday what he thought of coaching against James again, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he hadn’t spent too much time thinking about that aspect.
“Get all the cameras, the snapshots, all those out of the way,” Spoelstra said, grinning.
The teams are set to arrive in Brazil on Wednesday morning. Both plan to practice at least twice, and it’s unclear how much their paths will cross — if at all — before a reception that the clubs are expected to attend Friday night.
They play Saturday, then fly home after the game.
“Everybody’s going to hype it up and it’s going to be a big deal,” Bosh said. “But for us, it’s just another opportunity to get better. We know everything that’s surrounding the situation and it is what it is. As far as we’re concerned, this is our team, this is what we’re trying to build toward, the past is the past, we’re moving on and it’s good to get this out of the way.”
For that matter, it’s not even clear how much James — who spent four years in Miami, then opted out of his contract and kept the league guessing for weeks before ultimately announcing that he was going back to Cleveland — will play.
He’s been leery of overtaxing his body in the preseason, and likely won’t go overboard in this game either. The flight is long, the preseason is a grind anyway, and neither team will play this one like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series.
“It’s pretty hard to say right now what we’ll do with him, or anyone else,” Blatt said.
Here’s an oddity: When the teams get to Brazil, James isn’t even assured of being the biggest media deal.
That honor might go to Brazilian-born Anderson Varejao, the Cleveland forward who has been hounded by his teammates for a scouting report about his country. Varejao said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavaliers even found time for a team party and some bonding.
“He’s under the gun with questions, requests,” Blatt said. “Today he gave everyone a great suggestion. He told everyone to bring their Speedos.”
Let that be all the proof that’s needed.
It’s a work trip, but the intensity will be a tad higher come Dec. 25.
“A basketball game,” Haslem said. “That’s the only thing I’m focused on, a basketball game.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.