eddie_house_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI — After the NBA lockout had many fans wondering whether there would be a professional basketball season this year, the Miami Heat will have its opener on Christmas Day.

The Big 3 — Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh — will be back, just in time to ring in the holidays with fans eager for some more “hoop dreams” as Miami tries to redeem itself after falling short just of a second NBA Championship in June.

The season officially kicks off Sunday in Dallas with the Heat in a return confrontation with the Mavericks.

The last time the two teams met was in finals at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miam, when Dallas beat the Heat for the NBA championship.

Heat guard Eddie House said the team needs to “redeem” itself and bring a championship back home to South Florida.

“We’re all excited to get an opportunity to come back and try to redeem what happened to us last year,” he said. “We didn’t win it.  We didn’t achieve our goal.  There’s a sense that we’ve gotta get this done.  We owe it to ourselves and the city of Miami.”

There are still hurdles to clear with an abbreviated season due to the lockout after the owners and players worked out a new collective bargaining agreement.

During the lockout, players could not access trainers or staff or workout with other teammates and no trades could be made.

Heat Guard Mike Miller said in spite of the obstacles, and even with the shorter season, the team will be better this year.

“Everyone’s playing the same schedule, 66 games, and has same amount of time. So, we’ll be fine,” he said. “The biggest thing is just time.  We need time together, minutes together, years together.  We got one (playoff finals) under our belt.  Now we just need to continue to improve.”

NBA teams missed about 221 games due to the lockout and the league lost hundreds of millions in revenue, according to the NBA. A spokesman for the Greater Miami Convention & Vistors Bureau said South Florida lost millions of dollars.

Ginny Gutierrez, the bureau’s media director, said every Heat game generates money locally but the NBA finals coverage is “priceless.”

“The Heat gets national television coverage with every game and during the playoffs, often international coverage, because basketball is so popular worldwide,” she said. “When those games air, there are ‘beauty shots’ of the Miami skyline and waterfront because the arena sits right on the bay.”

Gutierrez said these postcard-type visuals attract visitors from around the world to Miami and amount to free publicity that the city cannot afford.

 “We lose a great deal of exposure and a great deal of businesses that are tourism-related are impacted,” she said.

These businesses include hotels, the hospitality industry, clothing and merchandising, local eateries and malls.

Many employers and employees depend of the Heat’s regular season play for their livelihoods.

“For someone who is normally working (at this time) or who is not working, that is a great loss, no matter how big or small,” Gutierrez said. “When you consider the worldwide exposure, I would venture to say millions were lost [due to the lockout].”

The Heat looked strong in its pre-season opener Sunday with a decisive 118 – 85 win against the Orlando Magic.

With the goal of winning a second NBA Championship looming over the players, center Dexter Pittman said he thinks many of the kinks have been worked out.

“I was here last year during all the nerve-wracking times.  It was a great learning experience for me,” he said. “The pace of the game, the timing, it’s very different (at the NBA level).  It isn’t all about being stronger but smarter than your opponent.”

Pittman, 24, said youth is on his side but he knows he and the rest of the team have to play smart basketball to win another playoff berth.

 “We have to rebuild.  We’ve got new guys coming in like (Norris) Cole, (Eddy) Curry and Shane Battier,” he said. “I mean God didn’t build the earth in one day.  It took seven days.”

Photo: HE’S BACK: Eddie House, is a guard for the Miami Heat. House said the Heat have to redeem themselves and bring home a championship.