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Heat open title defense against Celtics

The Miami Heat begin their NBA Championship defense Tuesday night when they host the Boston Celtics, the team the Heat knocked off in seven games of the Eastern Conference finals.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took only two seasons to bring the Heat an NBA title. On Tuesday night, they will get their championship rings.

It's been a big year for jewelry and James.

This summer, James led the U.S. to another gold medal at the London Olympics. Wade and Bosh would've been by his side at the medal presentation, but both had to bow out with injuries.

Wade missed the Olympics after knee surgery, but he's ready to go Tuesday night. Bosh didn't go to London to rehab his strained abdominal muscle that cost him several games in last season's playoffs.

It's a beautiful piece of scheduling by the NBA to put the Heat up against the Celtics on opening night. It's turned into one of the best rivalries in the NBA and things escalated this offseason.

Ray Allen, who, along with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, helped the Celtics win a title in 2008, bolted for South Beach as a free agent. There were rumblings of discontent last year between Allen and Boston, most specifically point guard Rajon Rondo, so the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made just joined the very team the Celtics couldn't get past.

"Change is not bad," Allen said at his Heat introductory press conference. "You have to consider this. You have to think if this organization is going to be beneficial to the way you play basketball."

And that decision was, of course, met with great pleasure by the Celtics.

"I don't have Ray's number any more," Garnett said at the Celtics' media day in early October. "I'm not trying to communicate. I'm just being honest with everybody in here ... It's just what it is."

Garnett himself signed a three-year extension in the offseason. His comments add fuel to a fire between two teams that have plenty of recent history to rely on for a great rivalry.

The Heat and Celtics have met in the last three postseasons and Miami has sent the Celtics home for the summer the last two seasons.

After the Heat dispatched the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last season, they went on to topple the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA title. It's hard to imagine the reigning champions have much room to improve, but team president Pat Riley realized the team's need for 3-point shooting and brought in Allen and Rashard Lewis.

It's all part of a new philosophy for the Heat and head coach Erik Spoelstra. He is implementing a "position-less" system where the five Heat players won't be pegged into traditional spots like point guard, or power forward. It's a genius idea, especially when the Heat have the best and most versatile player in the world in James.

The Celtics underwent change as well and how could you not when you lose a future Hall of Famer like Allen? Jason Terry, a bench star signed from the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason, and Courtney Lee, who came to Boston in a three-team sign-and-trade deal, will handle the offensive load left with Allen's departure.

Boston won last season's series, 3-1, but couldn't produce similar results in the playoff meeting.