Celtics-Heat Preview

The last time the Boston Celtics played a game that truly

counted, they had to endure a Miami Heat celebration.

New season, same deal.

Only this time, the party will come before tip-off – not after

the final horn.

LeBron James gets his long-awaited first championship ring

Tuesday night, when the Heat pay homage to last season’s NBA title

with a pregame banner-raising ceremony. Dwyane Wade will get his

second ring, Heat President Pat Riley his eighth, and the party is

the prequel to a Celtics-Heat rematch of last season’s Eastern

Conference finals that went seven games before Miami advanced.

”We’ll honor and respect what we were able to accomplish before

the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

There’s another major story line, of course. It’s the first time

the Celtics will face Ray Allen as an opponent since he left Boston

over the summer and signed with Miami, a decision that his former

coach and teammates were most unhappy about.

”It’s just another basketball game,” Celtics guard Rajon Rondo

said.

No, it isn’t.

Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that much. After all,

it’s Boston-Miami.

”If we win, do we get a trophy? We get one win and that’s it,”

Rivers said. ”And if we lose, which we don’t want to do, we get

one loss and it doesn’t mean we still can’t win it. But at the end

of the day, we’re all human. … These games, they don’t really

have more meaning, but they do have more meaning.”

It’s the first marquee game of the season, but not actually the

first game of the season. That distinction goes to the

Washington-Cleveland matchup, which starts on the Cavaliers’ home

floor about an hour before Heat-Celtics.

The NBA’s three-game opening slate concludes in Los Angeles,

where the revamped Lakers – now with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard

to play alongside Kobe Bryant – play host to the Dallas

Mavericks.

In Miami, there have been a slew of upgrades at the arena over

the summer – slightly different looks here and there, a new

nightclub and restaurant, more concessions and bars for

ticketholders to enjoy. The Heat will even offer fans the chance to

purchase championship-ring-related merchandise, designed in the

same manner as the players’ title-reward jewelry.

The upgrades extend to what’s going to be on the court as

well.

Miami kept its championship rotation intact, while adding Allen

and Rashard Lewis to the mix. Allen knows it will be unusual to see

the Heat get their rings, especially since five months ago, he was

busy trying to thwart their title march.

”I’m excited for these guys, having spent time around them over

the last two, three months, getting to know them and their

families,” Allen said. ”I’m happy for them that they won, but at

the same time, they beat me and put us out. I understand the

emotions that Boston will feel, watching the whole ceremony. But at

the same time I’m excited for these guys. And once it’s over with,

it’s business as usual.”

Boston’s roster looks improved, even without Allen. Jason Terry

was signed to bolster 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.

Still, the rivalry and the Allen reunion, make no mistake, weigh

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 versus 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.”

It’s the second ring-night in Heat history.

It’s almost certain to go better than the first one after

Miami’s 2006 title.

Any mention of the score from that Chicago-Miami opener – 108-66

– still makes Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem cringe. They’re the

last two players remaining in Miami from that Heat team, which

endured the worst opening-night loss ever for a reigning

champion.

”I just remember we got beat,” Wade said. ”I don’t remember

the game. That’s how long ago that was. Different time.”

Haslem remembers plenty.

”It sticks,” Haslem said. ”But it’s six years later. You

learn and you move on and you try not to let it happen again. We’ve

got a different group of guys. We’re smarter, me and Dwyane are.

And we understand the challenges of defending the title now. We

were naive. At that point, we thought we could do it again the next

year and just do it again and do it again and do it again.”

Well, actually, that is James’ goal.

He didn’t come to Miami for one title. He came for multiple

ones. That’s one of many reasons why even he’s downplaying the ring

ceremony and placing his focus squarely on another marquee matchup

with Boston.

That being said, he’s not overstating it, either.

”Game one doesn’t determine who’s the better team,” James

said. ”I mean, it’s game one.”