MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat are used to challenges, but they get one of their stiffest tests right out of the gate on opening night Tuesday against the team's bitter rivals, the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat will celebrate their second straight NBA championship before the game and receive their championship rings. That will be the final mention of last year for the Heat as they turn their attention to a three-peat as NBA champions.
Standing in the Heat's way will be a Chicago Bulls team the Heat hasn't seen in a long time, thanks to the return of a healthy Derrick Rose.
Rose missed much of last season with a knee injury, including the playoffs, but returned in the preseason and led the Bulls to an 8-0 record. No advanced stats were needed to sum up how good Rose looked in preseason where he averaged 20 points, shot 47.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from long-range.
The former MVP looked like he had returned to MVP form throughout the preseason, but the competition will pick up Tuesday night when LeBron and the Heat try to spoil Rose's return to the NBA.
The Heat are looking to avoid letting the Bulls spoil a championship celebration like they did in 2007 when the Bulls blew out the Heat in the worst season-opening loss for a defending champion in NBA history.
What the Heat is really doing this season is chasing history. No team since the Boston Celtics of 1957-66 and 1984-87 and the Los Angeles Lakers of 1982-95, has a team made the NBA Finals four consecutive seasons.
Plus, the Heat are trying to become the first team to three-peat since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers.
"It would mean everything, man," James said. "First of all, it means that I'm doing my part and I'm helping our team get better. It would mean everything to our team. That's what we're here for. We work our tails off every day. If it can pay off with another Finals appearance, we'd represent the Eastern Conference the best way we can."
While Chicago gets a healthy Derrick Rose back, the Heat will also have a healthy Dwyane Wade plus a new role player to throw at opponents, former number two overall pick Michael Beasley. That's not to mention having LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem leading the way.
"When you put this kind of talent together, there's always people on the outside trying to figure out ways why it shouldn't work," said Wade, who averaged 21.2 points while shooting a career-high 52.1 percent during his 10th season with Miami. "When you're on the inside and can put it together and show them that it can work, it's a great feeling."
The Heat may also have the missing big man if seven-foot center Greg Oden can get fully healthy and contribute around 10 minutes per game to guard an opponent's big man.
Ending that dominance would again appear to be a tall order for any conference foe, but Chicago believes it's up for the challenge.
As Rose remained sidelined the entire season with a knee injury suffered in April 2012, the Bulls went 45-37 in 2012-13 and posted a first-round victory over Brooklyn in seven games. Chicago won 93-86 at Miami in Game 1 of the next round, but scored 82.0 points and allowed 100.3 per contest in dropping four straight.
The memory of another failed postseason series against the Heat could certainly provide motivation, and the return of Rose has Chicago believing it can dethrone Miami.
"Our No. 1 goal is winning the title," said Rose, the 2011 MVP who has averaged 21.0 points and 6.8 assists in four NBA seasons. "We're not worried about anything else. We're not worried about what people say about us or what's going on on the outside. We're just worried about the Bulls and how good we get every day."
But for now, every team in the NBA knows one thing about the 2013-2014 season; the NBA championship will once again run through the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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