October 29, 2013 at 1:00 am

Vincent Goodwill

NBA preview: Heat's run at history hinges on their health

LeBron James' Heat have played 67 playoff games in three years, and that wears down even the best teams. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

The NBA season tips off tonight, and the 82-game marathon will have plenty of twists and turns, beginning with the Heatís quest to win three straight titles.

News: The two-time champion Heat opens defense of its titles against the Bulls tonight, and looks to become the first team since the 1987 Celtics to reach four straight NBA Finals.

Views: Thereís a reason it hasnít happened since then, and even for the Celtics, it took some luck to get past the Pistons in the 1987 East finals. Itís just too hard to play the equivalent of an extra season and maintain such high intensity for an extended period.

The LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh group has played 67 playoff games in three years, and that wears down even the best teams. The teams that have won three consecutive titles (1991-93 Bulls, 1996-98 Bulls and 2000-02 Lakers) werenít coming off a Finals loss a year earlier, and even then, at the end of each run for all three, they were running on fumes.

Jamesí crew was seemingly on fumes before Ray Allenís miracle saved them in Game 6, then eked out a Game 7 victory. Miami faces a slew of challengers unafraid of its mystique, noticing a dynasty weary and ripe to be taken down.

News: For the first time in a few years, Dwight Howard will not be the national nightmare, having signed a long-term deal with the emerging Rockets.

Views: If Howard is indeed fully recovered from his back injury and no longer is playing the ďWill I, Wonít IĒ game, thereís no reason why he wonít be the premier big man in the game. The drama thatís surrounded his time with the Magic and Lakers obscured the fact that when heís right, his defense and shot blocking is on par with dominant big men of the past.

Playing with James Harden will give him plenty of easy opportunities at the rim, as well as someone who doesnít crave the spotlight the way Howard does (Kobe Bryant).

And as Being coached by Kevin McHale and having Hakeem Olajuwon around should help with his post game, but long as he focuses on what he does best and leaves the buffoonery to the clowns, the Rockets should be a threat.

News: Thereís plenty of doubt weather Kobe Bryant can return to form after the Achillesí injury he suffered toward the end of last season.

Views: Bryant is the ultimate alpha dog, and has immersed himself with his recovery. He firmly believes heíll not only come back in relative time, but heíll be back to his old self.

The Lakers are nowhere near title contention, and itís highly unlikely Bryant can catch Michael Jordanís six titles.

So, whatís his motivation for this season?

To merely beat the odds of those who couldnít recover from tearing their Achillesí late during their careers and be the player he once war?

Or does he believe the Lakers could be a true contender minus Howard?

News: The Nets have acquired an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent in hopes of catching the Heat.

Views: It wonít be as easy as it looks, and Jason Kidd will learn affecting the game as a point guard is different than doing it as a coach.

The Nets, however, have to get in line behind the Pacers and Bulls. Both teams are young, hungry and are willing to get nasty with the Heat.

Derrick Rose, however, firmly believes he can go head-to-head with James and win. The Heat dispatched the Bulls in five games during last yearís playoffs and and 2011, when Rose was coming off an MVP season.

Have the Bulls learned enough to conquer their tormentors or will they have to rely on a fellow rival in the Pacers to soften the Heat up before the East finals?

But hereís the kickeróitís either gonna be the Heat celebrating in South Beach again, or someone from the West. Either Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry will be leading their respective teams to an NBA title this Juneóif itís not James going for history.