|ESPN.com: Heat Index||[Print without images]|
MIAMI -- With the way the Miami Heat's assistant coaches, armed with handheld football pads, mauled LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they drove into the lane at the end of Monday's practice, one might think the star trio were actually running backs preparing for a big game.
Instead, the Heat were just preparing for a physical battle on the court in Tuesday's season opener against the Chicago Bulls. After the Heat staff brought out the football pads to practice for the first time this preseason, the message is clear.
|LeBron James and the Miami Heat will have much more than Joakim Noah to deal with in the season opener. Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng are back in the fold for the Bulls after missing the Eastern Conference finals last season.|
"We don't like them, they don't like us," James said of the Bulls after the drill. "It's not unheard of. We all know how it is."
Was it a coincidence that they busted out the football gear before facing Tom Thibodeau's famed defense in Chicago?
"No, not at all," Bosh said after the 20-minute drill. "It's all planned. We know they're big, physical and we know we have to finish."
The Heat expect the Bulls to be extra motivated Tuesday, and not just because it marks point guard Derrick Rose's first game back since suffering a torn ACL in April 2012. The Heat will also be raising their 2012-13 championship banner and getting their rings before the game, and it's not lost them that they ended the Bulls' season in the Eastern Conference semifinals just five months ago.
"It don't matter who it is," James said of the opponent for the opener. "But we like the fact that it's the Bulls."
Not that the Bulls will be watching. Instead, they'll be in the locker room, coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday.
"That's their ceremony, not ours," Rose said. "If we were getting our rings there would be a little bit of a distraction, but for us we know that we got to stay focused, come together as a team, and really take their first hit because they're definitely going to be on charge."
The Bulls have been here before. After the Heat won the title in 2006, the Bulls were in Miami for opening night and the banner raising ceremony. Chicago blasted Miami 108-66. Only Udonis Haslem and Wade remain from that team, while Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich are the only Bulls who were around then.
We don't like them, they don't like us. It's not unheard of. We all know how it is.” -- LeBron James, on Miami's opener vs. the Chicago Bulls
The Heat were in the Bulls' shoes just two years ago. After losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, the Heat opened the season in Dallas after the lockout ended and got revenge by beating the Mavs by double digits.
"We wanted to embarrass [the Mavericks] on their home floor," Bosh said. "We wanted to defecate on their night and we know [the Bulls] want to do that to us. They want to spoil what we have going and we're aware of that. We have to hit first."
The Bulls, who were the only NBA team with an 8-0 preseason record, are again expected to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference crown this season. With Rose, Hinrich and Deng expected to be back in the fold after being sidelined in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bulls will be as healthy as they've been in over a year.
After battling groin soreness during the preseason, Bulls center Joakim Noah has declared himself "100 percent" for Tuesday's season opener.
"We have a special little thing with those guys," Bosh said. "The fans want to see it. We want to play them and they want us, too. So it'll be good."
Wade, who grew up in Chicago, agreed there's hard feelings between the two organizations with Miami having ended the Bulls' season twice in the last three years.
"We're both trying to do something, trying to win [a championship]," Wade said. "You're going to run into each other along the way and you're going to dislike each other. They want to beat us as badly as we want to beat them."
Wade expects the competition in the East, starting with the Bulls, to be even tougher this season.
"Our goal here is not to get bored," Wade said. "Don't get bored with trying to be great. We have to understand that we're champions and we're going to get every other team's best shot."
Greg Oden, who signed with the Heat as a free agent during the offseason and hasn't played a regular-season game in more than four years, is still day to day, coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com contributed to this report.