We’ve tried our best to create rivalries for the modern day NBA. The Kobe vs. LeBron debate lingers on in every corner of the internet even though they’ve never crossed paths in the Finals and probably never will. When the Thunder and Heat met in the 2012 NBA Finals, Durant vs. LeBron got legs; now it’s two years later and KD’s got an MVP but no other shot at a ring. The Pacers versus Heat never felt like a rivalry, if only because Miami has won three consecutive playoff series against Indiana. One team has the best player in the world, the other team has a player blowing into opponent’s ears.

All of these possibilities were forced upon us, manufactured without the real hatred and stakes that define rivalries. But Spurs-Heat? I think we have a real one here. San Antonio is the team you would least expect to be providing bulletin board material for their opponents, so it was a huge surprise to hear Tim Duncan say after eliminating the Thunder, “We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.” Duncan added, “we’re happy that it’s the Heat again.”

LeBron responded to those comments after practice on Monday, “They don’t like us, they don’t. I can sense it from Timmy’s comments over the last couple of days. They wanted this, they wanted us and we’ll be ready for the challenge. Duncan’s comments don’t bother me. Once you get on the floor, you’ve got to play. We’re confident. We’re not shying away from them. We want them, too. I don’t think it’s personal. Like they said, we left a sour taste in their mouth.”

All of this before they’ve even played a game in this series. The Spurs suffered a devastating finish to Game 6 last season. This year San Antonio went on a vengeance run to be the top seed in the West and have a chance to give Miami some payback. That’s how rivalries form, organically and at the highest level of competition. Right now, both teams have a healthy respect for one another. I imagine it’s going to change once we get going on Thursday.

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