Bulls, Nets aim to derail Heat 'threepeat'
LOS ANGELES - LeBron James and the Miami Heat have their sights on a "threepeat" as the NBA season tips off on Tuesday, but Derrick Rose's Chicago and free-spending Brooklyn have other ideas.
'King' James and the Heat are trying to become just the third team of the modern era to win three straight titles, a feat accomplished by the Los Angeles Lakers of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan -- who did it twice from 1991-93 and 1996-98.
The Heat captured their second straight title in an NBA Finals thriller over San Antonio in June.
Along the way to the title they put together an astonishing 27-game regular-season winning streak and James was a near-unanimous choice for a second straight Most Valuable Player award.
But the Bulls, with former NBA MVP Rose back in action after missing all of last season rehabbing a knee injury, have designs on the Eastern Conference title.
The Brooklyn Nets have also armed themselves for battle in the East, thanks to the deep pockets of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
The Nets brought in future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics to join All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.
Another future Hall-of-Famer, Jason Kidd, is the big question mark in Brooklyn. Kidd was tapped as head coach of the Nets shortly after announcing his retirement as a point guard with the New York Knicks.
While Kidd is unquestionably NBA coaching material, it remains to be seen if his inexperience in the job will cost the Nets.
"Championship teams are built on being prepared, playing unselfishly and being held accountable, and that's how I expect to coach this basketball team," the widely respected Kidd said.
The tension in the East was evident even before the season began when James and teammate Dwyane Wade implied it was hypocritical of Garnett and Pierce to make a move from Boston when they had criticized former teammate Ray Allen for departing the Celtics for Miami last year.
"Tell LeBron to worry about Miami," was the crisp reply from Garnett that promised an extra edge to the Nets-Heat rivalry this season.
The pre-season pot-shots at Miami haven't been limited to the East. Kevin Durant, whose Oklahoma City Thunder were beaten in the 2012 finals by Miami, said it was time for an aging Wade to "pass the torch".
Durant's assessment that Wade could no longer be considered one of the league's top 10 players sparked a Twitter feud in which Wade posted a reminder to himself: "Make him respect your place in history ... again."
It's certainly possible that Wade could get that chance in the finals. The Thunder's bid to get back to the NBA's title series last season ran aground after All-Star guard Russell Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus in his knee in the first round of the playoffs.
With Westbrook due back -- albeit belatedly after an arthroscopic procedure to reduce swelling in the knee in October -- the Thunder are still top contenders in a Western Conference packed with talented teams.
The San Antonio Spurs were five seconds away from a fifth NBA title in June only to fall in seven games to the Heat.
Coach Gregg Popovich admits he's thought about it "every day" and no doubt plotted how to get his ageless star trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker back to the finals.
They'll have the help of ever-improving Kawhi Leonard, the rising star who stamped himself the future of the franchise in last year's playoffs, as well as sharp-shooting Danny Green.
But it's the question-marks in the West that have sparked the most pre-season buzz.
The Houston Rockets landed free agent prize Dwight Howard, the superstar center who never seemed to settle with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
The Rockets, thanks in large part to shooting guard James Harden, were the league's second-highest scoring team last season.
But they ranked 28th out of 30 teams in allowing opponents to score, a stat that three-time defensive player of the year Howard can change right away.
The Los Angeles Clippers, having reached the playoffs the last two seasons, will try to go deeper into the post-season under the guidance of former Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers could be just what All-Star point guard Chris Paul and the Clippers need to emerge further from the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers, who face an uncertain season as superstar Kobe Bryant continues to recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
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