The team that should devour most of the national attention next season should be the Miami Heat, the two-time defending NBA champions, who will begin their season against Eastern Conference rivals the Chicago Bulls and play the highly anticipated Christmas game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s been quite a tradition for the Heat to feature on Christmas over the last 10 years, not to mention playing the Lakers on marquee dates. It is the Heat’s fifth consecutive Christmas game and ninth over the last 10 years, missing out only in 2008, when the Heat were coming off a 15-67 season. Overall, they’re 7-2 on Christmas games.
Last season the two teams met twice in the span of three weeks, as the Heat beat the Lakers by nine points in Los Angeles in a very impressive performance and then again by 10 points in Miami three weeks later. While the league loves putting Kobe Bryant in matchups with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the simple fact has been that for the past few years, the Heat are simply too good for the Lakers to keep up with, regardless of what Bryant does on the floor.
As for the Bulls, the rivalry is a little closer there, and has been a big part of the Eastern conference struggle for the last three years. Just as the Heat formed their Big Three, Derrick Rose evolved into the best point guard in the NBA, at least for one season. He won the MVP in 2011 and the Bulls dominated the Heat during the regular season, but lost to them in five games when the teams met in the conference finals.
A year later that playoff rivalry was averted as the Bulls crashed out in the first round, with Derrick Rose tearing his ACL and disappearing from the courts for an entire year. However, he’ll have his first game back from injury, his first NBA game in 18 months, against the Miami Heat, which probably means the Bulls might take it a little bit easy on him as he officially begins his comeback attempt.
Last season the two teams split their regular season series, with the Bulls being the team that stopped the Heat’s amazing winning streak at 27. In the playoffs, however, after stealing home court advantage with a shocking first-game win, the Miami Heat won the next four games and went on to win another NBA title.
In terms of quality? Opening night should be huge. With Rose in the lineup, even not at his best (and he won’t be), the Bulls are on of the few teams that make the Heat look uncomfortable thanks to its defense and physicality. The Rose factor should make it an even bigger game, with many looking to see how he’ll be once he steps on the floor.
The Lakers however, even in a down period (and they’ve been walking into one for the last three seasons), are interesting to see, especially with Bryant on the floor. Hopefully for the Lakers, their season at that point (two months into the season) won’t be in too bad of shape as many expect it to be.