(Sports Network) - Boston Three Party meet Miami Thrice.
The new look Miami Heat invade Beantown tonight and open up the 2010-11 NBA season by visiting the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics.
Superstar Dwyane Wade is still the captain in Miami. He's still introduced last, and he's still the center of attention in all of the team's publicity material, but make no mistake that's all just pageantry now.
Wade has been joined in Miami by two of the highest profile free agent acquisitions in NBA history, the reigning two-time NBA MVP LeBron James, who fled Cleveland after seven seasons for South Beach, along with former Toronto All-Star power forward Chris Bosh.
Meanwhile, Wade's former running rate on the Heat's 2006 NBA championship team, veteran center Shaquille O'Neal, is scheduled to make his debut for a Celtics team that came up just one game short of an NBA title last year.
"I think the NBA did an unbelievable job of picking a great first game," Wade said.
"All eyes will be on the game in Boston, but I think all eyes will really be on Miami," Celtics coach Doc Riversadded. "We are the other team that is playing and we are going to show up. But I'm sure everybody is there to see Miami."
Wade, a former NBA Finals MVP and scoring champion himself, now has a lot in common with Derek Jeter in New York. Like Jeter with baseball's Yankees, he will always be the most popular player for his franchise but Wade is no longer the straw that stirs the drink in south Florida. In the Bronx, that title belongs to Alex Rodriguez. In South Beach, it took all of one day for James to seize the mantle.
James and Bosh kicked off a new era for the Heat with a combined 38 points as Wade went down early with a hamstring injury in Miami's 105-89 exhibition opening win over the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 5.
Of course, preseason wins -- heck, even regular season wins -- aren't what it's going to be about in Miami this season. In fact the Heat may want to embrace Billy Joel's "Pressure" as their anthem this season. Anything short of an NBA championship will be viewed as a disappointment.
The blockbuster moves by Pat Riley in the offseason that netted Wade, who will play tonight despite struggling with the hamstring for much of the preseason, two teammates with 11 All-Star appearances between them also brought a ton of expectations.
A potential minefield of off-the-court distractions await.
"I hope these guys embrace it," former NBA star Chris Webber said of the scrutiny the Heat's three stars will surely face. "Don't apologize for getting together; don't tell us why it happened. Just beat everybody and say 'I told you so.'"
Things are much more tempered in Beantown, where the Celtics are coming off another great season in which they were a couple plays away from winning a second championship in three years.
Led by their own big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen along with emerging point guard Rajon Rondo, Boston fell in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, 83-79, wasting a 13-point third-quarter lead in the process, and losing the seventh game of the finals for the first time in the franchise's storied history.
Health is a main issue for the aging core of the C's that now includes Shaq. and Jermaine O'Neal.
Boston center Kendrick Perkins went down with a knee injury in Game 6 against the Lakers in The Finals and his absence was felt inside in the final game. Perkins underwent successful surgery in July to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is scheduled to miss half of the upcoming season, forcing Boston to ink both O'Neals.
The Celtics will also be without guard Delonte West, who is serving a 10-game suspension for an off-the-court indiscretion. Meanwhile, rookie guard Avery Bradley is out after undergoing left ankle surgery.
For Miami, swingman Mike Miller will be sidelined until at least January after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament and fracture in his right thumb. Miller, who signed a free agent contract with Miami this offseason that was worth $25 million over five years, sustained the injury when he got his hand caught in a teammate's jersey in practice last week. To replace him on the roster the Heat signed veteran guard Jerry Stackhouse.
Boston swept the three-game season series with the Heat last year and has won five straight overall and 11 of its last 12 against Miami. The Celtics also ousted Miami in the first round of the playoff last season but this is obviously a far different Heat team.
"As far as the East, we're the champs," Rondo said. "But that's in the past. This is a new season. We're not going to go down without a fight."