Report: Heat to open 2013-14 season against the Bulls, face Lakers on the road Christmas Day

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The regular season schedule for the 2013-14 NBA season is expected to be released in its entirety next week, but since preliminary versions get sent out to the league’s broadcast partners in advance, we always seem to get word of some of the marquee matchups before everything is finalized.

This year is no different, as we appear to have been tipped off of two of the defending champion Miami Heat’s more interesting dates on the calendar.

From Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

According to the preliminary schedule, which is subject to revision, the Heat will open their second consecutive championship defense on Tuesday Oct. 29 at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Bulls.

According to the all-but-finalized draft of the 2013-14 NBA schedule, the Sun Sentinel also has learned that the Heat will visit Staples Center on Dec. 25 to face the Los Angeles Lakers.

That opening night game is going to be a monster.

In addition to seeing the Heat drop a banner and get their championship rings, we’ll also get to see them face a Bulls team featuring Derrick Rose playing in a game that counts for the first time in 18 months.

Rose was rumored to return at multiple stages throughout last season, including as late as the second round of the playoffs at home against the Miami Heat. But it never came to pass. He now appears to be on track to participate in a full training camp and preseason, and should be 100 percent ready for that late October date with the champs.

As for Christmas Day, it appears to be a little bit less intriguing on the surface.

The Lakers aren’t expected to compete at the Heat’s level this season, and may even be without Kobe Bryant for this matchup due to his continuing rehabilitation from a torn Achilles he suffered near the end of last season.

Bryant will of course push to be back on the court as soon as possible, and an opening night return isn’t out of the question.

If he’s back, any game featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will be one that casual fans tune in to watch in huge numbers, no matter how far the Lakers slide in the standings. And that makes the league’s decision to put this matchup on the Christmas Day slate completely understandable.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.