Three thoughts from the Heat's 107-95 win over the Bulls on the NBA's opening night Tuesday in Miami.
• The defending champs were sharp. The Heat looked as if it can't wait to earn a threepeat over the next seven months. Miami was trailing briefly at 9-2 before dashing off a 31-5 run built on the strength of its second unit and blitzing defense -- the Bulls went 1-for-20 during that span.
Miami forced three fouls each on Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, getting them off the floor, and Derrick Rose (12 points on 15 shots and a 4-to-5 assist-to-turnover ratio) struggled in his first regular-season game since tearing his left ACL in the Bulls' 2012 playoff opener 18 months ago. The Bulls cut the lead to a single digit in the final minutes, but in truth, the game was decided when Miami took a 54-33 lead into the half.
LeBron James (17 points on 11 shots, eight assists and six rebounds) was in no hurry to grab control of his fifth MVP in six years. Instead of needing him to carry them, the Heat developed double-digit scoring from all but two players of their nine-man rotation. Ball movement helped them make all five shots from the three-point line in the second quarter, and for the game, they shot 51.4 percent from the field against a Bulls defense that is sure to improve over the weeks ahead.
The Heat's second unit was led by Shane Battier, who made all four of his threes, and Ray Allen, who was 3-of-6 from his favorite distance; the Bulls' new sixth man, Mike Dunleavy, missed his first five shots from the field. All of this was accomplished with Miami newcomers Greg Oden (in a blue suit) and Michael Beasley (in a headband) sitting on the bench, not-so-secret weapons to be integrated and deployed over the course of the season.
Instead of being distracted by the pregame ring ceremony (managed for the final time by outgoing commissioner David Stern), the Heat celebrated its miraculous NBA Finals victory over San Antonio as if it were old hat. Miami walked through the event as if it believed it was an audition for the one it'll have next year.
Dwyane Wade, whose production will be the subject of much scrutiny this year, was 5-of-13 for 13 points with three turnovers and three assists. But when the Heat needed a basket to hold off Chicago's late run, they went to Wade in the low post -- which will be a spot of emphasis for him this year.
• Derrick Rose will need time. To those who wanted Rose to come back during the playoffs, this 4-of-15 performance was a sign that he probably would not have made a significant difference last spring. He made good on his promise to be recovered athletically and showed his old ability to explode to the basket, but the basketball skills and cohesion within his team did not resemble his normally high level.
Moments after Joey Crawford had tossed up the opening tip, Rose was being stripped from behind by Mario Chalmers, who finished Chicago's opening possession by feeding Udonis Haslem for a two-on-one dunk. His next time down the floor almost resulted in another turnover when Rose was trapped at midcourt.
The Bulls received 31 points from Carlos Boozer (13-of-18) and 20 from Butler, but Deng (four points in 29 minutes) shared in Rose's frustration. Rose spent hundreds of hours working to improve his shot during his lengthy rehab, but he was 1-of-7 from the three-point line. He showed promising signs of being able to escape his first defender and get inside. But twice down the stretch in transition, Rose was unable to finish a couple of important drives as the Heat focused its defense against him.
This game will be forgotten as Rose finds his rhythm. The only real worry would have come from seeing him appear slow or lacking confidence in his knee. Quite the opposite was on display. The production and efficiency will come along soon enough.
• Will there be a postseason rematch next spring? The Heat demonstrated that its main worry this year is going to be health. There may yet be stretches this season when Miami will be searching for inspiration or wishing it could skip ahead to the playoffs, but for the most part, its prospects will depend on the health of Wade and the emergence of Oden as a reliable part of the rotation to help against the bigger front lines of Indiana and Brooklyn.
The Bulls must prove that they can be healthy too -- that's obvious -- but coach Tom Thibodeau will surely devote upcoming practice time to pulling his team together at both ends. It didn't help that they drew an opener against a fired-up rival that also happens to be the best team in the league.
Once they've survived an opening week that includes games against the Knicks and at Indiana, the Bulls will be able work off the edges against more routine opponents. They showed signs of their old ways by going on an 18-6 run on their way to pulling within 97-89 with 1:41 left. There will be another 3,888 minutes in the season (plus the occasional overtime period) for them to build on that closing performance.