Heat get rings as Rose returns for Bulls

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Heat will hang a third NBA championship banner, and second in a row, when they kick off their title defense Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls.

Commissioner David Stern will be on hand to dole out some fancy jewelry. The Heat players will receive the championship rings pre-game as Miami will begin its quest for a third consecutive title.

"It's an exciting time for us, for our fans, for our franchise," two-time reigning MVP LeBron James said after practice on Monday. "But, we can't prepare for it."

And what about the fact that the Heat get their rings and banner ceremony, on opening night, at AmericanAirlines Arena, and against the Bulls, a team several pundits picked to usurp the Heat in the Eastern Conference?

"It didn't matter who it was," said James, ever the diplomat.

"But, we like the fact that it is the Bulls. It makes us stay on our toes. It's exciting. It's great for the league."

It's definitely great for the NBA, pitting arguably the two best teams against each other on opening night.

It's also great that James will battle Derrick Rose, the former MVP, who missed all of last season when he tore his ACL in the playoffs in 2012.

Rose took his fair share of criticism for sitting the entire season, despite the Bulls announcing he was medically cleared to play. Rose didn't feel ready, but he does now and has had this day circled on his calendar.

"It's just going to be an emotional day," Rose said back in September about this night. "Just playing again and being around my teammates and being in the atmosphere of an arena, playing in front of people...I haven't had that in a long time."

Rose's return should propel a Bulls team that lost to the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. Chicago knocked off the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 at the Barclays Center last season, but Miami then dispatched the Bulls in five games.

That was all without Rose.

The two seasons prior to last, the Bulls were the No. 1 seed in the East. Rose won the MVP in 2011 and Tom Thibodeau was named Coach of the Year. Yet, the Bulls never made it past the Heat.

This season, the Bulls still boast an incredible defense (third last season in points allowed), a great starting unit with former All-Stars Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng alongside Rose and Jimmy Butler, who emerged in the postseason.

But, all roads to championship banners run through Miami.

James is the best player by miles and is the odds-on favorite for a fifth MVP. At 28, James is still in the prime of his career, although this season might be taxing at times. He can opt out of his contract with the Heat and become a free agent, but James doesn't want to discuss that during the season.

(Good luck.)

Dwyane Wade had an awesome regular season last season and an awful playoff run. Same goes for Chris Bosh. Both can also vacate their contracts, but both should be much improved from their disastrous postseason performances.

The biggest additions in Miami this offseason came in the form of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. They went first and second in the 2007 and 2008 NBA drafts, respectively. Oden's career seemingly ended due to bad knees and Beasley's looked to be over thanks to poor decisions, but the Heat are giving them a chance.

The two teams have been evenly matched the last seasons, going 4-4 against each other. Chicago did win in Miami on Jan. 4 and the two sides won't meet again until Dec. 5 in the Windy City.