Miami (AFP) – The Miami Heat collected their 2012 championship rings, then showed Derrick Rose and Chicago just how hard it will be to knock them from the top of the NBA.
LeBron James and the Heat used a dominant second quarter to seize control of their season-opening contest en route to a 107-95 triumph.
They spoiled the return of Chicago star Derrick Rose, whose comeback after missing all of last season recovering from a torn knee ligament has the Bulls tipped as contenders to topple two-time defending champions Miami in the Eastern Conference.
Rose’s appearance sparked widespread interest. Shortly before tipoff, President Barack Obama’s Twitter feed featured the message “Welcome back @DRose. #BullsNation.” Chicago is Obama’s hometown.
But the night belonged to the Heat.
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James finished with a relatively quiet 17 points.
But seven Miami players scored in double figures and the Heat bench out-scored Chicago’s reserves 42-26.
Leading 17-15 after the first quarter, the Heat blew the game open in the second when they outscored Chicago 37-18 to take a 54-33 halftime lead.
James added eight assists and six rebounds, Chris Bosh scored 16 and Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers chipped in 13 points apiece.
Shane Battier came off the bench to score 14, making four of four attempts from three-point range.
Despite a third quarter characterized by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as “sloppy,” Miami led by 20 going into the final period.
Chicago managed to get the deficit under double digits when two free throws by Jimmy Butler cut the gap to eight points with 1:41 remaining.
A three-pointer by Battier quickly stretched the Heat’s advantage and James, Bosh and Wade all connected on jump shots down the stretch to keep the Bulls at bay.
“You never know what to expect when you’re trying to keep the main thing the main thing, and that’s the game,” Spoelstra said of the potential distraction of the pre-game ceremony, in which the Heat raised their championship banner and received their rings.
“But you can’t deny the moment,” Spoelstra said. “It was great to actually get the win after that.”
NBA veteran Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 31 points.
Rose connected on just four of 15 shots from the field, scoring 12 points and surrendering five turnovers.
“He played hard,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I liked his play-making in the first quarter.”
The contest was one of three on the opening night of the 2013-2014 season.
In Los Angeles, the Lakers were without superstar Kobe Bryant but their unheralded reserves — including Belgium’s Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill — seized control in the fourth quarter to deal the Los Angeles Clippers a 116-103 defeat.
Henry scored 22 points, Farmar chipped in 16, Meeks posted 13 and Hill added 12 for the Lakers, who poured in 41 points in the final quarter.
Spain’s Pau Gasol added 15 points and 13 rebounds in the victory.
Doc Rivers, the former Celtics coach drafted to help the Clippers finally establish themselves among the league’s elite after so long in the shadow of the Lakers, saw his reserves out-scored 76-34 in his first game at the helm.
The Lakers’ performance was a strong indication that the team’s lesser lights are prepared to carry the load until Bryant returns from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Bryant, looking relaxed in a black suit, spoke about his rehabilitation during a courtside television interview in the second half.
“It’s tough to gauge,” he said. “I’m pushing it pretty hard this week. Every day I wake up, see how it feels and try to push it some more. I’m trying to be smart about it, trying to be patient about it.”
The Indiana Pacers, who took Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals last season, defeated the Orlando Magic 97-87.
Paul George scored 24 points with six rebounds and five assists for the Pacers, who used a fourth-quarter surge to subdue the Magic — who finished an NBA-worst 20-62 last season.
AFP Photo/Mike Ehrmann