LeBron James' Heat aren't going to willingly vacate their throne. Motivation to win isn't an issue for this team. LeBron won't let it be. Three straight finals appearances and two consecutive titles later, Miami is still going strong. One game into the 2013-14 season, we know that much.
You want what the Heat have? Come and get it. But you won't get it; they won't let you. Unless they become truly overwhelmed, frazzled by three years of extended seasons and depleted by injuries, they won't let go. Their hands will have to be motionless, their grip dead.
Problem is, the Heat just won't die. When they do, it will be on their own terms, be it through free agency or some other avenue. Presently, they're just not ready.
Targets on their back and all, the Heat aren't prepared to rejoin the ranks of the regular.
Chicago Bulls Aren't So Pesky
One game. That's all the Heat's 107-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls was. One game in a strand of 82 grueling contests.
"We have a whole season to make a statement," Rose said after Chicago's loss, via the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. "If it was just a one-game season, that's something we would be worried about."
"It's about us jelling and getting our chemistry,'' he added.
One game was enough. It was enough to see that the Bulls are still light years behind the Heat.
Healthy, jelling and playing up to their potential, Chicago is considered the greatest threat to Miami's Eastern Conference reign. I said it. Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley said it. Pending health, we're right.
Chicago's ceiling is higher than that of any other team in the East, save for the Heat. The distance between them and that ceiling, the gap between them and the Heat, however, is far greater than most anticipated.
For most of the game, the Heat made the Bulls look like child's play. Vast arrays of double-teams held Rose to just 4-of-15 shooting. Joakim Noah could barely hit an uncontested shot. Luol Deng looked lost on offense, confused by various defensive switches and coerced into hoisting up bad shots.
Blame their lack of chemistry if you must, but commend the Heat for hindering everything about Chicago's offense. They coaxed the Bulls into 26 threes. The Bulls. Shooting 26 threes. The same team that attempted just 15.4 a night from deep last season. Miami turned them into stumbling chuckers who weren't allotted clear looks at the rim. The Heat did that.
Carlos Boozer can drop 30-plus points. Teams other than the Heat will allow that to happen, too. Miami shut down two of Chicago's most potent scorers (Deng and Rose), and the Bulls were lost without their contributions.
Rose was especially passive, almost like he intentionally wasn't trying to do too much. Though he would never admit it, maybe he was caught up in the hype. Nervous at the prospect of making his regular-season return against LeBron.
"I don't think it was rust," Rose said, per Johnson. "It was just me missing shots. I've had worse shooting nights than this. If anything, I'm going to have amnesia about it and we play in two days."
Rust, nerves, a mutually exclusive abnormality—doesn't matter. Rose wasn't his pesky self, so the Bulls weren't their bothersome selves. You can thank the Heat for that.
These Heatles Can Battle
There's plenty of fight in everyone on the Heat. Not just the Big Three—everyone.
Dwyane Wade didn't have a great night. He had what will come to be known as a common Dwyane Wade night, dropping 13 points on 13 shots.
LeBron wasn't the LeBron Show all night, either (more on that later). He went 5-of-11 from the floor for 17 points, six rebounds and eight assists. For LeBron, that's almost underachieving.
But the Heat still managed to drop 107 points on last year's sixth-ranked defense. Neither LeBron nor Wade nor Chris Bosh totaled more than 17 points and still the Heat's offense was clicking. Seven of the nine players coach Erik Spoelstra fielded reached double figures.
Four of Miami's warriors also had at least six rebounds, and the Heat as a unit grabbed 40. This is the same team, still without Greg Oden, that ranked dead last in boards brought down last year. The very same one that fought for rebounds and finished with an impressive minus-one differential on the glass Tuesday night.
Physical aggregates, with bigs to spare and collisions to cause, are supposed to be the Heat's kryptonite. Factions like the Bulls. Especially the Bulls.
On a night like this, when not one member of the Big Three was able to eclipse 20 points, the Bulls should've been in it. Outside of the very beginning and tail end, they weren't.
Instead, we were treated to ankle-breaking maneuvers by Norris Cole. Three-point brigades from Shane Battier. Unyielding defense by Mario Chalmers. And, most importantly, team unity.
Not a soul in the building could tell the Heat were coming off a 105-game campaign. No traces of complacency, entitled bravado or pimply desire could be found. There was only endless pizzazz from end to end.
"It's a team game," LeBron said after the win, according to CBS Sports. "That's what this team is put together for."
Defending its title, chasing a third straight championship—this team is put together for that, too.
LeBron Being LeBron
LeBron didn't have a typical LeBron game, and yet that's somehow just like LeBron.
King James only attempted 11 shots, opting to play the part of a distributor instead. Looking at his stat line, you wouldn't be prepared to shower him with praise. Or even drizzle him with praise. He nearly notched a triple-double (sort of). So what?
In an age where individual dominance is worshiped, the superstar who doesn't destroy the box score or take over a game on his own is susceptible to criticism. Attempting just 11 shots can be portrayed as an apathetic LeBron, a version of The Chosen One the Heat don't need. Their three-peat needs a constantly present LeBron.
Sometimes, though, picking and choosing your spots is more praiseworthy than overexerting yourself. LeBron wasn't disinterested or off his game, he was smart.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal put it best when he described LeBron's evolution as a player:
It reminds me of the moment in Game of Thrones when Theon Greyjoy was discussing Robb Stark's role in life. He realized that Robb didn't have to try particularly hard to act like a king and fill in his father's footsteps. He just had to be...who he was born to be.
That's exactly what we're witnessing with James at the moment. He's becoming who he was meant to be, and we're all lucky enough to see the process. He no longer has to try to please everyone or take over games, but instead he can pick the right moments and still stand at the center of attention.
During the playoffs, he needed to take over. Most of his teammates weren't stepping up. To open this season, he didn't need to put the outcome of the entire game on his shoulders. He knew when to take a step back, and he knew when to step up.
Over the final five minutes of the game, when the Bulls were staging a comeback, LeBron did what he needed to do. He went 2-of-2 from the floor and hit a pair of free throws for six points and dropped two assists as well. When the game was on the line, he stepped up. That's greatness.
More importantly, it's a further sign that he only cares about winning, about defending the Heat's championship. Individual stats aren't of value to him, not in the same way Miami's collective success is.
"I'm at a point now where nothing else matters in basketball besides winning," he said, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. "That's what I'm here for. That's where my passion lies. It's where my work ethic lies. It's my hunger to put up another banner in this arena."
LeBron doesn't exist to please us or meet our expectations; he only exists to define himself and his team as winners. As champions.
Are LeBron James and the Miami Heat where they need to be to defend their title?
"I have a drive that's burning inside of me, and I want to continue to be successful," he said, per Zillgitt.
So long as that fire's still blazing, LeBron isn't going anywhere. The Heat aren't going anywhere.
Their chance to be recognized as a dynasty isn't going where.
All stats obtained from NBA.com unless otherwise noted.