Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s been a long time coming for Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, but Tuesday night, he will officially receive his first NBA championship ring and watch as the team hoists another championship banner into the rafters of the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Then, James and the rest of the Heat will immediately turn their attention to the task of trying to put together a Heat-peat as NBA champions. The Heat will open the season against the Boston Celtics and the game will not be without plenty of storylines.
For the Heat, it will be the debut of two new players that the team hopes will push the team to even greater heights this season. Guard Ray Allen and forward Rashard Lewis will both join the lineup officially starting Tuesday against the Celtics.
Allen’s debut with the Heat will be bittersweet. The former Celtic will be playing his old team for the first time since signing with Miami in the offseason. Allen and the Celtics have both publicly blamed the other for the bitter break-up at the end of last season.
But Allen enjoyed great success as a member of the Celtics and won his first championship in Boston, a feat he’s hoping to repeat as a member of the Heat.
The matchup of the Celtics and the Heat could also be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals next May. The Heat and Celtics have met in each of the last three postseasons, including an epic seven-game series in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
During the Heat’s playoff run last year, LeBron elevated his game against the Celtics and almost single-handedly willed the Heat to a victory in Game 6 in Boston. The Celtics haven’t forgotten that and would love nothing more than to spoil the Heat’s championship celebration with a victory Tuesday night.
The Heat is expecting to be at full strength for the Celtics game. The Heat has had several players rehabbing injuries in the offseason, most notably Dwyane Wade and Allen.
Wade appears to be rounding into form after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. Allen struggled a bit with his shot in the preseason while returning from ankle surgery. Allen is expected to be a key contributor for the Heat off the bench this season.
The Heat will also be debuting what the team calls a position-less lineup and others around the league call small-ball. The Heat will be using Chris Bosh as the starting center and have either Shane Battier or LeBron James guarding the power forward position.
Battier will likely be the defender at the four, while LeBron will be manning the position on the offensive end of the floor. James proved to be almost unguardable down the stretch last season when he took his game to the post due to his combination of size and quickness.
With Bosh down low and James floating between the three and the four, Dwyane Wade will be free to slash to the basket and Allen will also be free to have plenty of open 3-point shots as team’s collapse in a double-team on Bosh, James, or Wade.
Boston figures to be better as well. Jason Terry now comes off the Celtics’ bench, there’s an influx of youth in the rotation, Jeff Green is back after heart surgery, and the remaining members of what was a Big Four — Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — are loaded up for another championship push.
“It’s just another basketball game,” Rondo said.
Not even he probably believes that. The rivalry and the Allen reunion, make no mistake, weighs heavily on both sides. Neither Garnett nor Pierce has spoken to their former shooting guard since he signed in Miami.
“We’re not going to make this into a Ray Allen or Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rondo thing,” Pierce said. “Right now my focus is on playing in the game tomorrow vs. the Miami Heat. Everything’s that happened has already happened. He’s here. He’s happy to be here. We wish him the best for his family and the situation, but I’m more focused on the Boston Celtics.”
For the Heat, they just hope Tuesday night’s ring ceremony and game go better than their first. In 2006, the Heat played Chicago in the season opener after winning the championship and were subsequently blown out by the Bulls, 108-66.
“Game one doesn’t determine who’s the better team,” James said. “I mean, it’s game one. Tomorrow night will not be what we want to be in April.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)