Originally Published: October 29, 2013

1. Ring Trilogy? Heat's Opening Page Strong

By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- About 30 minutes before the start of Tuesday's game, Miami city police officers surrounded a table at midcourt that contained the Heat's championship rings.

It wouldn't be long before LeBron James and his teammates formed a similar barricade around Derrick Rose to restrict access to the rim in his first NBA regular-season game following 18 months of recovery from major knee surgery.

The Heat were not emotionally overwhelmed by their rings nor the return of Rose on the way to building a 25-point lead en route to a 107-95 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena. This was more than a welcome-back moment on a marquee stage for Rose. It also served as a reality check.

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsAfter a year's hiatus, Derrick Rose and LeBron James clash again.

Miami handled its dual challenges masterfully for much of the night. First, the Heat maintained a respectfully subdued demeanor throughout much of the pregame ring ceremony and banner raising to commemorate last season's title run.

Then they dismantled Rose, held him to just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting and forced the Bulls' star guard into five turnovers, including one on the very first play of the game.

To ensure they approached the night with the proper sense of balance, the Heat took care of the ring ceremony first and then retreated back to the locker room for 10 minutes to reset their focus on the game. James addressed the team as the players were gathered and reminded them what the night was truly about: the start of a new, and likely more difficult, trek than any of the three previous seasons.

"It wasn't hard at all," James said of the process of finally putting last season to rest and placing this season into exclusive focus. "Once the banner went up and we left the floor, we left last year when we left the floor. And we started on our journey to this season."

Those diamonds in those rings Heat players locked away or handed to family members for safekeeping are a reflection of the contenders they'll face: bigger than ever before.

Bolder than they've ever been.

And with much more quality depth.

But those characteristics also describe the Heat as they enter this season aiming to become just the fourth franchise in league history to win three consecutive championships.

And it wasn't even as if these were any sort of statement performances from James and Dwyane Wade, who entered the fourth quarter a combined 5-of-19 from the field and never established any consistent offensive rhythm. This wasn't a night for Miami's standouts. It was game that displayed the quality and depth of the Heat's fill-ins.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used nine players against the Bulls, and seven of them scored in double figures. Ray Allen set his Heat career high with seven assists, and Shane Battier delivered another perfect effort from 3-point range, knocking down all four he attempted from beyond the arc. Backup point guard Norris Cole ran the team in its most productive stretches, including a 17-0 run in the first half. And Chris Andersen grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.

The Heat's bench turned what was supposed to be a welcome-back moment for Rose into a reminder of just why the league commissioner and all the pregame festivities were scheduled for Miami in the first place.

"As you get older, you start to cherish these more because you start to see how much harder it is for you to put it together to make it happen," Allen said of appreciating last season but looking forward to this season. "We think about those fighting moments, not just in the playoffs, just throughout the year. When we look at the ring as competitors, we realize what it stands for."

On Tuesday, it didn't stand as a distraction.

Wade said his teammates quickly got past the nostalgia of the initial stages of the night. More so than any other member of the Heat, Wade best knows the danger of the alternative. He was with Miami in 2006-07 season opener, when the Heat had their ring ceremony to celebrate their 2006 title. It was spoiled by a 42-point loss to Chicago.

"We understood the competition they were going to bring," Wade said. "At the end of the day, we came in and did what we wanted to do. We wanted to come in and establish ourselves on the defensive end and come out with a win."

After singling out the Heat as their only true rival in the league and declaring during an 8-0 preseason they have the pieces in place to knock off the two-time defending champ, the Bulls might now have to again reassess this matchup.

With Rose back, Chicago obviously is a better team than it was without him. The Heat can also look across the Eastern Conference landscape and see improved products in Indiana, Brooklyn, Detroit and Washington as well. New York always will consider itself a fierce Miami rival.

But the Heat didn't just stand pat after making three straight trips to the NBA Finals. They got better and deeper as well.

Rose anticipates this will be the first of many battles with the Heat this season. That's why the initial disappointment and dejection from Tuesday's loss won't linger for long.

"We didn't show all we're capable of," Rose said. "It's something we can learn from. It's not the end of the world. It's not the playoffs, where we're eliminated or something. It's the first game. We can easily fix things."

The Heat will need to fix a few things, too. They committed 20 total turnovers, which handed the Bulls 30 points. Wade, James and Bosh were rather pedestrian. Miami was erratic and sloppy down the stretch.

And the Heat still were clearly the dominant team.

The Heat on Tuesday finally put last season to rest. But nothing's changed entering this season regarding their status or their quest.

2. Around The Association


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