It is basketball season again in Miami. The Miami Heat will open their championship defense at home against the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night, but first they will wrap up their 2012-13 title season by raising another championship banner at the AmericanAirlines Arena and receiving their championship rings.
Once the festivities are over, they will get an early test against the Bulls, one of a few revamped teams in the Eastern Conference trying to prevent the Heat from taking a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
The Bulls have become one of Miami's biggest rivals during the Big Three era, something about which the Heat are well aware. "We don't like them and they don't like us," LeBron James said Monday.
"It's not like it's unheard of. We all know what it is. They don't like us, so we don't like them."
The Bulls are finally getting 2011 MVP Derrick Rose back from injury. He sat out the entire 2012-12 season after tearing his ACL in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. "I'm looking forward to it, but I'm going to take it as any other game," Rose said. "It's the first game. It's the next game. And we're just trying to sharpen things up, play the same way but just get our chemistry a little bit better."
The Heat will take the court looking much like last season's championship roster, with a few notable changes. Guard Mike Miller has departed for Memphis after being released for salary cap reasons over the summer, while forward Juwan Howard retired to take a spot on the Heat bench.
Joining the Heat this summer were center Greg Oden, forward Michael Beasley, and guard Roger Mason Jr. Oden is trying to get his career back on track, having not played in a regular season NBA game since 2009. Beasley, Miami's former second-overall draft pick, is trying to do the same after being cut by the Phoenix Suns this summer. Mason, a ten-year veteran, will look to fill Miller's role as a spot-up three-point shooter who can spread the floor off the bench.
But the Heat are once again all about their Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. With all three eligible to opt out of their contracts next summer, the pressure is on for the Heat to win another title and prove once again the worth of their alliance.
Not that anyone in Miami will be thinking about next summer on Tuesday. The Heat are well-aware that the Bulls would love to steal a win on their home court after their pre-game coronation. Wade and Udonis Haslem remember the night in 2006 when the Bulls blew out the Heat on opening night after they received their 2006 championship rings.
"We learn from our mistakes," Haslem said. "And we remember."
The Heat managed to avoid that fate last season, beating the Boston Celtics on opening night after receiving their 2012 championship rings, en route to another title. Can they do the same Tuesday?
The Heat and Bulls tip off at 8 pm ET, with coverage TNT.