The Heat spent the first part of Tuesday evening in celebration of what it has done, then spent the rest of the night strongly indicating the celebrating might not be ready for the past tense just yet.
Some 20,000 folks who jammed into the downtown bayside arena acted as if Miami fans might not be tired of championship parades quite yet, and their team looked abundantly able to oblige.
The NBA’s two-time defending champions played like it Tuesday in inaugurating Miami’s 26th season in search of a rare “three-peat.” It’s so easy to fall flat on a night like this; instead, the Heat flattened the Chicago Bulls, 107-95.
This game felt bigger than just one of 82 in the regular season. It surely was no “soft” opener. It had closer to a playoff feel.
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The Bulls, celebrating the long-awaited return from injury of superstar Derrick Rose, came into this game feeling as if they were poised to overtake the Heat in the Eastern Conference, and plenty of experts have chimed agreement.
Indiana and Brooklyn feel the same way.
There seemed to be a growing question about whether Miami’s time had passed and whether other rivals were ready to deny Miami its run at history. Doubting the Heat has become all the rage in the NBA.
Well, Tuesday seemed to offer the Heat’s two-word response to the Bulls and to the doubters in general:
Miami trailed by 9-2 early in this opener, but just as the doubters may have been unlimbering and ready to start crowing, Miami would take over, going on a 17-0 run that stretched to a 31-5 blitz.
The victory was comfortable despite LeBron James — playing 10 years to the day after his NBA debut — leading Heat scorers with only 17 points. Neither he nor Dwyane Wade played particularly well, but Miami flexed its depth with 42 bench points.
You wanted a statement game from the Heat?
This one said, “We are the champions. Twice. In case you forgot . . .”
“We have a measuring stick to see where we are now,” said Chris Bosh.
The season opened full of emotion on both sides of the floor.
Miami celebrated its most recent championship with the requisite ceremonial banner-raising and ring-presentation, a ceremony both earned and unavoidably ostentatious. “Every one gets better,” said a smiling Wade of his latest ring.
The Heat displayed white home uniforms with letters and numbers that seemed to be gilded in gold, and why not? This night marked the first time in Miami pro sports since Sept. 15, 1974, that a two-time defending champ began a season in search of a “three-peat.”
The 1974 Dolphins would fall short.
The 2013-14 Heat may do the same, but Tuesday was a rousing start.
Chicago packed its own emotion for the trip, marking the return to action of Rose for the first time in 18 months, after he missed all of last season following serious knee surgery. It was such big news even President Barack Obama, a Chicagoan, wrote on Twitter, “Welcome back, DRose.”
The Bulls were 8-0 in the preseason, with Rose showing a sharper three-point shot and claiming his vertical leap had improved by five inches.
Not even presidential best wishes, though, could prepare Rose or his Bulls from Miami reminding us how fiercely this team plays defense when it is of a mind to.
So much that can go wrong for the home team on a night like this did not.
Anybody recall seven years earlier? Back in 2006 the first-time champion Heat opened the following season against the Bulls and got embarrassed and buried, 108-66.
Today’s Heat recalled well being cast in the role the Bulls were in Tuesday night: Having to endure another team’s ceremonial banner-raising and ring-presentation. It was worse for Miami in 2011 because they were visiting the very team, Dallas, that had defeated them in the Finals.
“We wanted to embarrass them on their home floor,” Chris Bosh said this week. “We wanted to defecate on their night.”
(You have to like a cerebral athlete who actually uses words like “defecate.” Well, at least I do).
Chicago “will try to embarrass us on our court,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game.
The bitterness of the rivalry underlined all of it.
These teams’ relationship is tense, even combative. Miami ended Chicago’s season in the playoffs only five months ago, with the Rose-less Bulls convinced they’d have won if at full strength. Spoelstra used the words “duress, pressure, physicality” to describe the evening ahead. Miami expected such physical play from the Bulls that Heat assistant coaches wore football hand-pads to punch at their players during a practice.
“We don’t like them, they don’t like us,” LeBron had summarized it this week. “We all know how it is.”
We all know this, too, if Tuesday night was any indication:
The champions aren’t done yet.