MIAMI — In the wake of having his team practice with football pads Monday and superstar LeBron James admitting the squad’s dislike for the Bulls, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra downplayed the tenor of Tuesday night’s regular-season opener.
“When you face a team in the playoffs, it naturally becomes more than it would be in the regular season,” Spoelstra said after his team’s morning shootaround at American Airlines Arena.
Spoelstra did, however, acknowledge that from what he’s seen in the preseason, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose looks to have returned to his previous form after missing all of last season while recovering from an ACL injury.
“It’s tough to really say until you see more games, but the good thing is you see the explosiveness. He’s put in the time, the work, the sweat, equity, all behind the scenes and so, he looks like he has every bit of the explosiveness he had before, when he was the MVP,” Spoelstra observed. “He also had time to work on his perimeter game and he shot terrific in the preseason from behind the arc. So from that standpoint, even from our side as competitors, you want to see guys get back out there and not lose anything.”
His counterpart, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, has a similar view of Rose’s progression, albeit from a much closer vantage point.
“The way he approaches things, he puts a lot into each and every day, he studies. I think his experience has taught him a lot. Even though he couldn’t play last year, he studied. So he is a better player. And you’ll see him improve each and every year because of the way approaches things,” Thibodeau said, prior to the Bulls’ shootaround.
“Physically, he’s in a really good place. What last year allowed him to do was put a lot of time into working on his body and his shooting. So I think he made the best of his circumstance and I think it’s helped prepare him well for this upcoming season. He’s a stronger player, I think he’s a smarter player, and now the challenge for us is to put it together as a team.
“I think you go step-by-step, so each day he’s gotten stronger. I think he’s gained more confidence. I think it’s one thing to go through individual workouts, practices from last year and then of course preseason games, but this is another level now so it will be another challenge.”
Thibodeau didn’t read much into the Heat’s practice methods, disregarding both the seemingly over-the-top preparation for what have historically been a very physical matchup, as well as the apparent enmity between the squads.
“It doesn’t say anything. What you’re allowed to see is not a lot, and that’s probably part of their practice. We’re not concerned with that,” he said. “They’re good; you have to play well to beat them. You’re not going around them. You’re chasing the same thing, they’re the defending champion. So you’ve got to knock them off. They’ve got something we want.
“It’s the start of the season, so we’re looking forward to that. They’re the defending champions. We’re not going to get wrapped up in all the festivities that they’ll have going on. We’re going to lock into what we have to lock into to get ready to play a high-quality team.”
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Rose found it humorous, saying, “That’s kind of crazy. I don’t think we’re going to foul them like that. If they go to the hole, of course we’re going to hit them. But I don’t think it’s going to be anything like football.”
The Chicago native also took James’ mixed messages of welcoming him back and animosity toward the Bulls in stride.
“I think the competitiveness in all of us, it leads to this. Where you feel like you hate one another, but you’re just trying to get the same thing,” Rose said about the Bulls-Heat rivalry, before deftly transitioning into what the reigning MVP’s appreciation for his return. “It feels good when those types of players say good stuff about you. I can’t get caught up into that. I’m just worrying about what’s going on with the Chicago Bulls.”