In late June, when City of Miami workers were still cleaning up confetti from the Heat’s championship parade, Bulls center Joakim Noah shared his vision for how this Heat season will end.
“I feel like we’ll be the team that beats them next year,” Noah told USA Today at the time. “I was driving in my car, and I just didn’t feel good about it at all after they won. We don’t like them. They don’t like us.”
The feeling is mutual, which was reiterated by the Heat’s Big 3 on Monday, a day before the teams christen the NBA season at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“They don’t like us, so we don’t like them,” LeBron James said.
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As Heat center Chris Bosh explained: “When you play teams a lot, you start to dislike them. I have nothing against anyone on Chicago personally. It’s just a healthy dislike for their team.
“We know they’re tired of us. And we’re tired of them. … We have a special little thing with those guys.”
Nothing meaningful in the NBA is won in October, and grand conclusions should not be drawn from Tuesday’s Heat opener.
But the Bulls, buoyed by the return of star guard Derrick Rose, certainly can make a resounding statement and ruin the celebratory mood on a night when Miami will receive its championship rings.
“When Dallas got their rings [on Christmas Day 2011], we wanted to embarrass them on their home floor, wanted to defecate on their night,” Bosh said of a Mavericks team that beat the Heat in the Finals in June 2011. “We know [the Bulls] want to do that to us, and they want to spoil what we have going.”
THE ROSE FACTOR
Despite the ill will, there also is begrudging respect between these teams. James said he would make a point to welcome back Rose, who hasn’t played in a regular-season or postseason game since tearing his ACL in a 2012 first-round playoff game against Philadelphia.
“He’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder,” Dwyane Wade said.
Rose was terrific in the preseason, averaging 20.7 points, 5.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and shooting 44.4 percent on three-pointers in 27.4 minutes per game.
His return gives the Bulls the offensive punch they lacked in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Heat.
“He looks like he came back improved from where he left off, and that was MVP level,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Also significant for the Heat on Tuesday: The players cannot allow themselves to be distracted by the pre-game merriment, as the 2006-07 Heat clearly was. That Heat team lost by 42 to the Bulls on Miami’s championship ring night.
Last season’s Heat handled the situation far better, beating Boston by eight.
“That will be the final burial for us of last year,” Spoelstra said of a pregame ceremony scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. “We’ve been trying to throw dirt on it, respectfully.
“We have to let it go and move on, but we don’t do that until that banner is up. It’s not the ideal moment [to receive rings]. We have to manage our emotions and understand we’re going to be in for a dogfight after that ceremony.”
Said Udonis Haslem: “I wish we could get the rings on the day of the parade. That would make things a lot easier.”
Heat’s DEEP ROSTER
The two-time defending champion Heat enters with arguably its deepest team ever. The question is how much of that depth Spoelstra will use, beyond his starters and top four reserves: Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole.
That leaves Michael Beasley, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason Jr., Greg Oden (when healthy) and Joel Anthony competing for any remaining minutes.
For perspective on how Spoelstra uses his bench, consider these numbers from the Heat’s 27-game winning streak last season and the streak-busting loss to Chicago: Of the 16 close games during that streak, Spoelstra used a 10th player only 10 times, for 4.2 minutes per game. He used an 11th (Joel Anthony) for a total of five minutes.
“We really brought down the minutes of our main guys down to career-low levels last season,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t anticipate us taking them down to 30 minutes a game.”
Oden sounded Monday as if he doesn’t expect to play. He hasn’t been cleared to participate in five-on-five work in recent days, and Spoelstra said his status will be evaluated daily.
“I would rather be playing,” Oden said. “Once I am out there, I will be even happier.”
Wade succinctly captured the essence of this regular season for the Heat.
“Our goal here is not to get bored,” he said. “Don’t get bored with trying to be great. Don’t think because we show up we’re going to win a game. That’s not how it goes.”
There’s assuredly no risk of boredom Tuesday.