Whether or not LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat are happy to have Derrick Rose back healthy and playing, you can be sure that another emotion will overtake them in the next day as they prepare for their opening night NBA season tip-off against the Chicago Bulls. The competitive nature lurking deep within them, dormant within their psyche for another 24 hours, will trigger the true nature of their relationship very shortly. This is a relationship of rivals, opposing forces and dare I say, enemies.
When the Heat and Bulls take the court tomorrow night at the American Airlines Arena, it will not be camaraderie that will take the court but bad blood that has existed between these two elite franchises over the past three seasons. In 2010-11, the rivalry was intense and in a lot of ways a stalemate with the Bulls presenting the wall that managed to hold the Heat at bay for most of their series with only offensive shortcomings being the critical crack in the wall that flooded the games and resulted in a lost series. Last season, another physical and tenacious series took place between the two which can best be summed up by the push of James by Nazr Mohammad. If it isn’t clear by now that these two bitter rivals hate one another, then you truly haven’t been paying attention.
The Heat enter the 2013-14 campaign with optimism that the health of their core will remain intact, none more important than that of Wade. A healthy Wade makes for a dominant Heat team that has won the past two NBA championships, but what if the issues of injuries aren’t merely bad luck but one of Father Time knocking on Wade’s door and slowly guiding him down that path so many stars go through as they age and degrade physically? Could Chris Bosh finally ascend into the role of Pau Gasol for James, a player capable of being his Robin like we saw with Gasol and Kobe Bryant‘s Los Angeles Lakers if Wade simply cannot meet the challenge this season, something we once thought possible during his time with the Toronto Raptors?
As for the Bulls, the return of Rose will undoubtedly give a monumental emotional advantage that is well understood by sports nuts and under-appreciated by those looking on from the outside. Whether that translates into a victory is yet to be seen, but if there’s one thing we can be certain of it’s that a victory by either team will be a grueling and hard fought one to come by. In addition, while injury concerns have surrounded Joakim Noah all preseason, he is fully expected to join Rose on the floor when the Heat and Bulls take their places for the opening jump ball of the new NBA season.
Each team will have kinks to work out, something that might go unnoticed but is ever present for each roster. For the Heat, the addition of Greg Oden provides for a long-term project that might well turn into a lottery ticket if they can manage to get the most of the player once proclaimed as the kind of post prospect we see once every few decades. Can they help the vastly talented but mentality unstable Michael Beasley resurrect a career that once showed so much promise? As for the Bulls, the simple matter of establishing the cohesion between Rose and the teammates he sat watching for the past 17 months along with the incorporation of new pieces such as Mike Dunleavy promises to be a feat that we’ll see play out over the course of the regular season.
I believe that the emotion that comes with a return as monumental as that of Rose will simply outlast anything that the Heat will be able to throw at the Bulls tomorrow night. That said, it is not the game that should be the focus but the re-ignition of a bitter rivalry that will make for great television should we be lucky enough to see them fan the flames enough this season to pay dividends if the two cross paths come playoff time.