New NBA season arrives, but Heat still the team to beat 

click to enlarge LeBron James and the Heat will be going for a three-peat this season. - JOHN RIEGER/USA TODAY SPORTS
  • John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports
  • LeBron James and the Heat will be going for a three-peat this season.

Dwight Howard moved on and Derrick Rose came back, though Kobe Bryant won't quite yet. Nine first-time coaches are coming in and David Stern will soon head out.

With different looks all around the NBA in 2013-14, one familiar sight remains: LeBron James and the Miami Heat are entering another season as the team to beat.

The two-time defending champions will collect their rings tonight, then open against the Chicago Bulls, who with a healthy Rose might be the team that can unseat the Heat.

Or maybe it's San Antonio or Indiana, both a game away last year -- actually, the Spurs were just seconds away -- from finishing off Miami. Perhaps it's the Nets or Clippers, after both picked up pieces of the old Celtics that had the Heat's respect but not their number.

If someone does dethrone King James, it won't be because he was satisfied with two titles and lost his edge.

"When the hunger is gone, I'm going to give it up," James said. "I've got a talent and I'm going to take full advantage of it. So I'm hungry.

"I love the game. There's nothing I would do more than play this game of basketball. So the championships are all great, but I'm playing for more than that. I've got a bigger calling than that."

James did miss in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, but the Heat got the rebound to set up Ray Allen's tying 3-pointer, pulled it out in overtime and won Game 7 to deny the Spurs a fifth title.

San Antonio may get another chance to finish the job, or may not even be the best team in Texas after Howard joined James Harden in Houston.

Howard bolted after one unfulfilling season in Los Angeles, where he and Bryant never found a working partnership. The center already seems happier and healthier in Houston, where he and Harden can build a potent inside-outside tandem.

The buzz in Los Angeles is about the Clippers, who hired Doc Rivers to coach while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett went to Brooklyn after Boston's breakup. That also could make both longtime losers not only the current kings of their cities, but also contenders to reach the NBA Finals -- which are returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format after 29 years of 2-3-2.

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