As Miami looks to further etch its mark on NBA history, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls hope they are capable of ending the Heat's recent dominance within the Eastern Conference.
The visiting Bulls get an early crack at the two-time reigning NBA champion Heat when they open the season Tuesday night.
Following a lavish celebration of the team's second straight league title and third in eight seasons, Miami expects to be all business going forward.
"After we get our rings, that's last year," said Heat superstar LeBron James, who averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists en route to his fourth MVP award.
"We did some special things last year and this is an opportunity for us to look back at it one more time, but I definitely won't lose sight of what's in front of me."
The Heat are trying to join the Boston Celtics of 1957-66 and 1984-87, and Los Angeles Lakers of 1982-85, as the only teams to make at least four consecutive trips to the league championship series. With James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen again leading the way, and Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley headlining a solid supporting cast, the Heat are poised to accomplish that feat while trying to become the first team since the Lakers of 2000-02 to win three straight NBA titles.
"It would mean everything, man," James said. "First of all, it means that I'm doing my part and I'm helping our team get better. It would mean everything to our team. That's what we're here for. We work our tails off every day. If it can pay off with another Finals appearance, we'd represent the Eastern Conference the best way we can."
Miami needed seven games to beat Indiana in the East finals and San Antonio in the title series in 2012-13, but those playoffs capped a remarkable season in which the Heat went 66-16, won 27 in a row and took 27 of the final 29 regular-season contests against conference opponents.
"When you put this kind of talent together, there's always people on the outside trying to figure out ways why it shouldn't work," said Wade, who averaged 21.2 points while shooting a career-high 52.1 percent during his 10th season with Miami. "When you're on the inside and can put it together and show them that it can work, it's a great feeling.
"For us to be able to go to the Finals three straight times and hopefully go again, what more can you ask for?
Ending that dominance would again appear to be a tall order for any conference foe, but Chicago believes it's up for the challenge.
As Rose remained sidelined the entire season with a knee injury suffered in April 2012, the Bulls went 45-37 in 2012-13 and posted a first-round victory over Brooklyn in seven games. Chicago won 93-86 at Miami in Game 1 of the next round, but scored 82.0 points and allowed 100.3 per contest in dropping four straight.
The memory of another failed postseason series against the Heat could certainly provide motivation, and the return of Rose has Chicago believing it can dethrone Miami.
"Our No. 1 goal is winning the title," said Rose, the 2011 MVP who has averaged 21.0 points and 6.8 assists in four NBA seasons. "We're not worried about anything else. We're not worried about what people say about us or what's going on on the outside. We're just worried about the Bulls and how good we get every day."
Rose averaged 20.7 points while the Bulls went 8-0 during the preseason. Though it's hard to put much stock in such achievement, Chicago looks at that performance as something to build upon.
"If anything, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, which was to go out there and try to win every game," Rose told the Bulls' official website. "We know we have important games coming up. We're just trying to get prepared for that."
Rose has averaged 20.2 points despite shooting 37.1 percent, including 19.6 from 3-point range, in 17 regular-season and playoff games against Miami. However, he's played in one of the last 12 meetings between the teams.
Chicago split the four-game regular-season series with the Heat in 2012-13.
The Bulls ranked 29th with 93.2 points per game last season - 3.1 fewer than in 2011-12 with Rose. However, since the start of the 2009-10 season, Chicago is yielding a league-low 93.1 points a contest.
Chicago's Joakim Noah made his first All-Star game while setting career highs with averages of 11.9 points and 11.1 rebounds last season. He could miss the opener due to a groin injury.
The Bulls are hoping for continued development from third-year shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who gave the Heat trouble in last season's playoff series by averaging 15.6 points. Butler became a starter in March and scored 14.5 per game, and he's expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday.
The Associated Press News Service
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