- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Tuesday night, the NBA's opening week and holiday schedule will be unveiled in a special hourlong program on NBA TV (a page right out of James' playbook).
Officials shouldn't even think twice about the Eastern Conference matchup to kick things off: Celtics versus Heat. New Big Three versus Old Big Three. Defending conference champs versus preseason favorite to win the conference title.
The location doesn't matter, South Beach or Southie. Just make it happen. The Celtics haven't been bashful this offseason in sharing their opinions of James and his Super Friends, so put the two teams on center stage to tip off the season and let this rivalry truly blossom on the court.
"They should be good, but they ain't done nothing yet," Celtics guard Rajon Rondo told Yahoo! Sports during Team USA's training program in Las Vegas last month.
"Miami looks really good on paper and I'm sure they're going to be really good," Rondo added. "But they still have to come together as a team. I'm not saying they won't, but who knows if those guys can jell?"
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who will be sidelined to start the season after undergoing ACL surgery last month, added a little fuel to the fire last week.
"It looks good on paper with Miami and stuff like that, but at the same time each team is going to come at you," Perkins told Houston Sports Radio 610 KILT. "You gotta be prepared. It would be nothing more than amazing for us to meet up with Miami and beat them.
"I think any team would love to upset them. They've got a lot of pressure on their end. Forget the other teams have to play against them, they've got a lot of pressure on their end to win, to actually produce. It won't just be as if you're gonna get three All-Star players and then you win a championship. You gotta have the right coach, everybody has to sacrifice, you gotta be willing to move the ball, it's gotta be about team, and you gotta be able to play defense.
"We'll see when it's time to match up," he said.
Rondo and Perkins haven't been the only outspoken players. Every time a Celtics player has chatted with the media this offseason, they've heard the question: What do you think of the Heat? The company line has been to praise Miami's offseason moves (often utilizing the catchphrase "on paper"), then remind everyone who the defending Eastern Conference champ is.
"They're good, they're really good," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the Heat last month. "I don't know if they're the team to beat. The Lakers are the team to beat. We're the Eastern Conference champs. [The Heat are] going to have a bull's-eye on them every game, but so will we, so will the Lakers, and so will Orlando. The East will be fun."
What's more, the budding rivalry got a dash of spice last week when former Celtics fan favorite Eddie House signed a two-year deal to bolster the Miami bench. House received a standing ovation when he returned as a member of the Knicks shortly after being dealt to New York at the trading deadline in February. But the initial reaction to his signing with Miami was met with venom from Boston fans. House is part of the enemy now.
So, NBA, let the Lakers dance with the Heat on Christmas. LeBron can return to Cleveland some other time. This one is simple: Celtics versus Heat on opening night.
NBA TV's broadcast starts at 7 p.m. and will feature the unveiling of the opening slate of games for "Tip-Off 10," plus the Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. holidays.
The Celtics have played on Christmas each of the past two seasons, defeating the Magic 86-77 last year, while falling to the Lakers 93-82 the year before.
Boston has defeated James and the Cleveland Cavaliers each of the past two seasons to kick off the NBA's regular-season slate. After raising Banner 17, the Celtics topped visiting Cleveland 90-85 in 2008. A year later, Boston went on the road to top the Cavaliers 95-89 in Shaquille O'Neal's Cleveland debut.
There are still questions as to whether O'Neal could end up in Boston this offseason, with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge often noting the team could use another big man (and O'Neal being the biggest of the remaining big men).
Given Shaq's history in Miami (winning a title with Wade in 2006) and having spent a season with James last year, it would only make a Celtics-Heat matchup on opening night that much more magical.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com who's checking in from Patriots training camp this week. Follow him on Twitter.
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