(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Heat begin their title defense in earnest on Sunday afternoon when they welcome the Charlotte Bobcats to American Airlines Arena.
Miami has won the last two NBA titles and lost in the Finals three years ago to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat have made the playoffs 10 times in the last 11 years and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Miami has won four straight Southeast titles and is trying to become the first three-time champion since the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-00 to 2001-02.
"I don't need extra motivation. I'm motivated enough," said LeBron James. "This is the best part of the season, it's the best time of the year. I'm happy to be here once again."
The Heat had a real chance at the No. 1 seed, but head coach Erik Spoelstra elected to sit James and Chris Bosh the last two games. Dwyane Wade missed significant time toward the end, but he played late to get some timing back.
"We've got to carry the load," said James, who said all Heat players participated in practice for the first time since training camp. "It's great. I guess guys are ready for the playoffs."
The decision to concede the No. 1 seed could hurt later in the postseason, if the Heat advance. Last season, Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs in South Beach.
The Heat come into the postseason in a bit of a rut. They lost the last three games of the regular season, although, they did rest some key pieces. However, Miami did drop six of its last eight and James and Bosh were in the lineup for most of those setbacks.
Charlotte is in the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history and was swept in four games by the Orlando Magic back in 2009-10.
The Bobcats surprised the NBA world with just the second record of .500 or better in team lore at 43-39, one season after going 21-61 and compiling only 28 wins in the previous two years. What was the difference this season? That would be the offseason addition of Al Jefferson.
Jefferson, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for April, averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Bobcats, who were 20-9 after the All-Star break and ended with 14 wins in the last 19 games of the regular season. Jefferson was the only player in the Eastern Conference and one of only five players in the NBA averaging at least 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds on the season.
New head coach Steve Clifford infused the team with a defensive mindset. The Bobcats finished fourth in opponents' scoring and sixth in opponents' field- goal percentage.
Charlotte did have some trouble scoring this season. The Bobcats finished 23rd in points, while Miami was 12th. The Heat ranked fifth in opponents' scoring.
The Bobcats won their last three regular-season games and eight of their last nine.
The Heat swept all four games against the Bobcats in the regular season and are undefeated in the past 16 games between the teams. Charlotte has lost nine straight and 12 of its last 13 trips to South Beach.