The Miami Heat begin their championship defense Tuesday night at home with a game against the rival Boston Celtics. The Heat will receive their championship rings before the game, and hope to avoid a repeat of what happened the last time they led off a season with a ring ceremony.
On Halloween night 2006, the Heat were blown out at home by the Chicago Bulls, which turned out to be an omen of sorts for the team's title defense. Miami was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the same Bulls team the next spring.
This time around, though, the Heat seem more prepared for a post-title run. The offseason acquisitions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have the roster stacked with talented wing players who can augment the strengths of its Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
Allen, who was a member of the Celtics when the Heat outlasted Boston in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals last spring, said Monday it will be unusual to see the Heat get their rings.
"I'm excited for these guys, having spent time around them over the last two, three months, getting to know them and their families," Allen said. "I'm happy for them that they won, but at the same time, they beat me and put us out. I understand the emotions that Boston will feel, watching the whole ceremony. But at the same time I'm excited for these guys. And once it's over with, it's business as usual."
The Heat seem primed to make another run to the NBA Finals. With Chicago PG Derrick Rose still recovering from an ACL injury, Boston appears to be the only team with any hope of challenging Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Meanwhile out west, defending Western Conference champs Oklahoma City have to deal with the sudden loss of James Harden, who was traded over the weekend. The San Antonio Spurs, whom the Thunder beat in the Western Conference Finals, are another year older with no significant changes made in the offseason.
The LA Lakers are once again a chic pick to win the West, now that they have added PG Steve Nash and C Dwight Howard to flank Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But the advancing age of the Lakers' starting unit and its thin bench leave them with many question marks as well.
Even so, a Lakers-Heat Finals clash may be in the cards eventually, and the NBA would certainly love the ratings that series would produce. "If we see that matchup, Kobe vs. LeBron, I think it would break all the records," Lakers Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said. "I think the viewership would be off the charts."
Indeed, the Heat are the prohibitive favors to win a title, and for the third straight season since the Big Three teamed up, they will have a bullseye on their back every single night. They certainly welcome the attention.
In a sport like this, I think the ultimate goal and the only goal is to win," James said. "You prepare to win. It doesn't happen all the time. Of course not. But that should be your mindset. Prepare your mind each and every night to win."
Tipoff is just after 8:00pm on Tuesday night, with coverage on TNT.