- Michael Wallace, ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- LeBron James says he will reach out to Derrick Rose to personally welcome him back following his yearlong layoff before the Miami Heat face the Chicago Bulls in Tuesday's regular-season opener.
Asked about the prospects of facing Rose, James said after Sunday's practice that it won't be difficult to set aside his competitive nature to take a moment and appreciate how the Bulls' star guard has handled his recovery from 2012 knee surgery that forced him to miss all of last season.
James said he especially admires Rose for not giving in to any outside pressure to return during last season's playoff run. After upsetting the Heat in Miami with a Game 1 victory, the short-handed Bulls lost four straight to James and the Heat and were eliminated in the second round.
"I'm happy and thrilled that he's back," James said as the Heat prepared to open defense of their second straight NBA championship. "I'm happy with what he did last year, to be able to stand strong throughout everything, throughout all of the adversity of everybody criticizing him about what he should do. He did what was best for him."
The Heat spent the bulk of Sunday's workout focusing on conditioning and closed the session with a scrimmage. The team will lock in on their specific preparation for the Bulls when they resume practice on Monday.
But Miami's players and coaches have taken notice of how impressive Rose has looked during the Bulls' 8-0 run through the preseason. Rose sat out of one game to deal with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee but has averaged 20.7 points, 5.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.4 minutes over seven games.
One surprising element of Rose's game has been his improved touch from 3-point range, where he shot 44.4 percent in the preseason.
With Rose back, the Bulls are expected to present one of the stiffest challenges to Miami's quest to become only the fourth franchise in league history to win three consecutive titles. The Heat know how difficult the Bulls can be when Rose is healthy and on top of his game.
Rose was the league's MVP during the 2010-11 season when he led Chicago to the best record in the Eastern Conference. James and the Heat then beat the Bulls in five games in the conference finals.
Miami has since been the top team in the East, with James winning the last two MVP awards. Rose was banged up during the 2011-12 season and tore his ACL during the first round of the playoffs in a series against Philadelphia.
Rose recently told reporters he considered the Heat the Bulls' only true rival in the league, despite Chicago's closer proximity to Indiana and a series of intense games against the Pacers in recent seasons within the Central division.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a Chicago native who has dealt with his own series of knee injuries, said Sunday he understands the path Rose has taken to regain his health.
"The game needs him," Wade said. "You never want to see anyone get hurt, especially a player of D-Rose's caliber. Just because I'm a competitor doesn't mean I don't understand the importance of Derrick Rose to basketball. So it's good to see him back, and good to see him confident. He's going to make it tougher on everybody."
Tuesday won't be the first time James has set aside a moment against a bitter rival to show some gratitude. Early last season, James took time during a break in a game against Indiana to congratulate coach Frank Vogel on receiving a contract extension.
Any pleasantries between James and Rose would come amid an already emotional scene, with the Heat holding a championship ring ceremony just prior to Tuesday's tip-off.
"It's just great to see [Rose] back to full strength," James said. "The game is happy to have him back."
LeBron James says he will reach out to Derrick Rose to personally welcome him back following his yearlong layoff before the Miami Heat face the Chicago Bulls in Tuesday's regular-season opener.