MIAMI -- It remains to be seen which player scores the first basket for the Miami Heat when they play the most anticipated season opener in franchise history Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics.
But in the budding rivalry, it was clear on Sunday who took Miami's first shot.
“They’re supposed to hate you,” Miami forward Chris Bosh said after Sunday’s practice when asked what reception he expects the Heat to receive at TD Garden on Tuesday night. "You’re the opposing team. And, it’s Boston. They hate people a little bit more than usual cities.”
The new-look Heat might be a work in progress in developing chemistry between their star trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Bosh. But when it comes to how the Heat will handle the hostility they expect to face in Boston, the players seemed to be ready and willing after Sunday’s practice.
Bold roster moves have made the Heat the most polarizing team in the league. But Miami’s players and coaches insist their mental makeup is strong enough to overcome challenges they will face on the court and in the court of public opinion.
Still, Wade, James and Bosh have each had their struggles in the past against Boston. James acknowledged Sunday the Celtics were a tremendous hurdle in his path with Cleveland.
Last season, the Celtics beat Wade’s Heat in the first round before getting past James’ Cavaliers on the way to losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Boston was 4-0 against Bosh’s Raptors in the regular season.
“It’s just drive, not animosity toward that team,” said James, whose Cavaliers were eliminated in the conference semifinals by Boston in six games last season. “That’s a great team. But I’ve had my battles with Boston the last few years. We’re going to take the challenge, and it’s going to be fun to start the season as well.”
James has received a mixed reception during the Heat’s road preseason games. He was cheered loudly when the Heat played Oklahoma City on Oct. 8 in Kansas City, but was booed each time he touched the ball during Miami’s Oct. 21 game against the Hawks.
There is no mystery regarding the reaction from Boston fans.
“They bleed green; that’s all they care about,” James said. “We have to be mentally focused and mentally prepared. Some arenas believe and love basketball more than others. Sometimes, more history adds more intimidation. Not saying it’s an intimidation factor for me. It’s never been an intimidation factor for me. But as far as the crowd and as far as the team, Boston is one of those hostile environments to play.”
Bosh said the Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference “right now” because they’re the defending Eastern Conference champions and because Miami has yet to prove anything after its offseason makeover.
“It would really be disrespectful to [the Celtics] to kind of just say we’re the team to beat in the East, and we haven’t played a game together,” Bosh said. “That’s right now. That can change. I’m not saying it can’t change. But as of right now, they’re the team to beat right now.”
Injuries have limited Bosh, Wade and James to only 3 minutes, 17 seconds of time together on the court during the preseason. But the Heat emerged from Sunday’s practice relatively healthy and ready for Tuesday.
Wade completed his second full-squad workout since he returned from the hamstring injury he sustained in the Oct. 5 preseason opener. Jerry Stackhouse, who signed a nonguaranteed deal with Miami on Saturday, went through his first practice with the team on Sunday. Although his role has yet to be defined, Stackhouse was brought in to fill in for Mike Miller, who is out until January with a thumb injury.
There are enough questions surrounding the Heat to match the hype, which is why even the players agree the conference pecking order should start with Boston. But the Heat are eagerly anticipating the opener.
“When we walk onto that floor we’re going to see how we feel,” Wade said. “There’s a lot being said positively and negatively about this team. But at the end of the day, we’re a couple of hours away from just throwing the ball up and the season starts.”