MIAMI — The question began with the word “LeBron.”
And at the mere mention of the Miami Heat star’s first name, at the simple utterance of the two syllables, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo turned his head away, a window into his contempt for the Heat.
The question was focused on how LeBron James had said the Celtics-Heat rivalry, which had been built through recent fierce playoff battles, is no more.
“It’s not a rivalry,” James said last November when the two teams met here, a game the Celtics won on a dramatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jeff Green. “They’re a team that’s trying to figure things out while their best player is out.”
Now Rondo, who missed nearly a year with a knee injury, is back, and he’ll play Tuesday night when the teams meet up again at AmericanAirlines Arena.
But does the Celtics guard think the rivalry is dead, with former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce playing in Brooklyn after being dealt there last summer?
“I mean, that’s a tough question,” Rondo said after practice. “It’s not a rivalry. But I still don’t like those guys.”
Another reporter tried to steer the interview in another direction, with a question about Rondo’s restrictions on minutes. Rondo answered the question, saying that his 20-minute limit — five minutes per quarter — probably would stay the same Tuesday.
Then he turned back to the other reporter, the one who mentioned James.
“To go back and answer your question, I don’t really like anybody I play against,” Rondo said. “That’s just the type of attitude I approach the game with. It’s a business. It’s a game. We’re not friends on the court. Afterwards it’s a different story, but while we’re playing, I’m trying to win.”
Also, he said, there’s not just one thing he doesn’t like about the Heat.
“A lot of things upset me about Miami,” Rondo said. “Let me go home and write [them] down. Nah, just we’ve had some great battles in the past.
“When you play a team — I could say the same thing about the Knicks or the teams we’ve battled in the past, the Game 7 series — it’s a grind. You’re competing. It’s a competition. There’s just some teams you just don’t like.”
In November, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra touched on the rivalry by saying, “They’ll still be green in our eyes, and you know how that goes.”
Rivalry or not, Celtics coach Brad Stevens is new to this matchup. He also downplayed it when the teams last met, saying, “I plead ignorance on that question.”
But Stevens didn’t have a problem with how Rondo phrased his response Monday.
“He wants to play well against the best and it’s hard to argue that the Heat aren’t the best,” Stevens said. “I would assume that would be the case with anybody that has that reputation. He wants to win at anything he’s doing.”
Stevens disagreed with the notion that one must hate the opponent, though.
“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “I think you focus on doing your job as well as you can, and you let everything else take care of itself. I think that ends up being the most consistent way to long-term success.
“I think certainly, you’re going to have teams or people that you may personally not like as much, but that has nothing to do with, I think, [whether] you’re ultimately successful.”
For Celtics forward/center Joel Anthony, Tuesday’s game will mark his first on the other side of the rivalry, as he played six seasons for Miami before being traded to Boston as part of a three-team deal last week.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” Anthony said. “Obviously, it’s not the same team. The Celtics aren’t the same team that Miami was battling the past few years. It definitely is a different feeling, being on the other side.”
When asked if he expects to hear it from fans now that he’ll be wearing Celtics green, Anthony said, “When we’re on the court, it’s one team against the next, regardless of who is on the team. I’m just looking forward to the chance to compete and go against those guys.”
Rondo said he has had no swelling in his surgically repaired right knee after playing in two games. He added that he doesn’t even think about his knee much at all. “I think about the brace I’ve got on,” he said. “I’ve got to wear it. I want to throw it away, but I have to wear it right now. The rest of this season, I’ll play with the brace, just precautionary. I don’t necessarily think I need it, but I think it helps me out there if I make a certain cut or move — a little more stability.” . . . Celtics guard Jerryd Bayless (sprained left big toe) is questionable for Tuesday’s game.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.