With release of NBA schedule, is it apparent these are the Heat’s three prime rivals?

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Q: Ira, I saw the schedule, but I’m still not sure who the Heat’s rivals are. What say you? – Eddie.

A: Me says that because of the recent series deep in the playoffs that such a question starts and ends with the Celtics. There is both recent and distant history there. The rivalry with the Celtics is getting close to (if not having already surpassed) the all-time rivalry with the Knicks. I also would put Milwaukee up there, because of that recent playoff history, as well, including the Heat’s stunning 4-1 victory in last season’s first round. And since the Knicks don’t stink, they probably again can justifiably be cast as a current rival. Otherwise, I think it would be a stretch to call the Nuggets a rival because of a single NBA Finals. And so much time has passed that I’m not sure the games against LeBron James and the Lakers set up as rivalry games. So, in order, I’d probably go: 1. Celtics, 2. Bucks, 3. Knicks.

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Q: I think the Blazers are waiting it out to see if Damian Lillard attends camp. And if he does, they might take him off the market fully. Do you think I could be right? – Ren, Stuart.

A: If Damian Lillard is not traded, he will be there for camp. It’s who he is. The real question then becomes the Blazers’ commitment to this as a developmental season, as opposed to stringing along the hopes of some type of playoff run. Every rep that Damian Lillard takes in training camp is one not taken by Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe or Anfernee Simons. Such an approach seemingly retards the team’s growth. This is not the same as the Nets preferring to try to win with Kevin Durant before dealing him at midseason. It’s not as if Durant was getting in anyone’s way in Brooklyn’s rotation. Basically, if Damian Lillard has to report to Portland’s training camp, then management seemingly not only wouldn’t be doing right by Damian, but also not be doing right by Scoot, Shaedon and Anfernee. But that is the Blazers’ right, as well.

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Q: Ira, Messi is going to be bigger in South Florida than Dwyane Wade/LeBron James/Shaquille O’Neal combined. – Anderson.

A: Which is interesting, because at a listed 5-foot-7, he doesn’t even measure up to Kyle Lowry. But I get the inference. But this becomes a matter of South Florida greatness or greatness created elsewhere and then imported. For example, LeBron James is the greatest player to ever wear Miami Heat colors, but the player who achieved the most in those colors was Dwyane Wade. So, yes, Messi arrived with a worldwide reputation that preceded him, one far more global than what Dwyane, LeBron or Shaq. But there will have to be far more to wind up with the type of South Florida legacy of a Wade or Dan Marino.

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