5 Keys to Series Between Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls
They don’t back down. It’s amazing how consistent they are. They always give themselves a chance. They’re kind of like the Boston Celtics in the sense that, no matter what happens, they won’t go away. They’ve got tough guys mentally and physically. They’re going to fight.
You can certainly expect a fight from the battered Bulls in this series.
Yes, the Heat did beat a healthier and—with Derrick Rose and Omer Asik—stronger squad in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.
Yes, the Heat did so at a time when they weren't nearly as healthy or strong as they are now.
And yes, they did so in just five games.
Still, if you were assuming a sweep here before Chicago's gutty Game 1 upset over Miami, you haven't been paying attention, either to the competitive contests over the past two seasons, even when Rose has been unavailable, or to the Bulls' remarkable seven-game series victory against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Heat know better.
"We know each other," Erik Spoelstra said.
They know they'll get all they can handle. The 93-86 slugfest loss certainly proved that.
So what are five of the keys?
(All quotes for this piece were collected over the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for The Palm Beach Post.)
5. Does Chicago Have Enough Healthy Guys?
Derrick Rose should have shut it down.
Or the Chicago Bulls organization should have shut him down.
Instead, they have all left themselves open to speculation and criticism, as Rose's teammates hobble on and he—more than a year after knee surgery—continues to cheer, and occasionally jump, from the bench. At Monday's shootaround, he was even shooting step-back jumpers before telling the media that his status for the rest of the playoffs was still "up in the air."
While the Miami Heat say they are prepared for Rose to finally return to the court, during an actual NBA game, the odds are most certainly against that.
So who will be on the floor for Chicago?
That uncertainty makes it a challenge to assess many of the matchups.
"You can't underestimate them no matter who's out there," Chris Bosh said.
No, but if Joakim Noah—who dominated Game 7 of the first round against the Brooklyn Nets—has a setback with his plantar fasciitis, that's the one absence the Bulls simply can't survive.
As it is, it will be even more difficult to defend LeBron James without Luol Deng, who missed Game 1 with an illness that was severe enough to require a spinal tap test for meningitis.
Then there's Kirk Hinrich, who has historically annoyed Dwyane Wade and serves to settle the Bulls offense with Rose out. He was in a walking boot last week and is unlikely to be at full strength.
The good news for Chicago: Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson have had more time to get the sickness out of their systems.
These days for the Bulls, any healing qualifies as a minor miracle.
4. Can the Heat Break Even on the Glass?
About an hour prior to tipoff in the United Center on Feb. 21, Chris Andersen spotted Joakim Noah in the hallway.
They slapped five and hugged.
"They got me for you," Andersen said.
Maybe that wasn't the only reason, but certainly Andersen's addition has gone a long way since to quiet concerns about the Heat's rebounding capability.
Six weeks earlier, the Chicago Bulls out-rebounded the Miami Heat by 20 in a road victory.
But on that night in Chicago, with Andersen's assistance, the Heat closed that gap to three and won the game by 19.
During the second half of the season, the Heat didn't become a great rebounding team, still finishing last in the league. They did, however, make sure that the area didn't doom them.
How'd they do it?
"Just urgency," Chris Bosh said. "And really getting our butt kicked night in and night out on the boards. We really knew we had to turn that around. And now that it's the playoffs, I think the urgency is even higher. We are making sure we take more pride in rebounding, because if we rebound, we win the game."
Miami doesn't need to out-rebound the Bulls—and that's not likely, not so long as Noah is active.
It needs merely to avoid getting bludgeoned and ride its other advantages.
3. How Will Dwyane Wade Hold Up?
Dwyane Wade played in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls.
He could have played in the series finale against the Milwaukee Bucks, after not appearing limited during a pregame workout. But the occasion did not require it against an overmatched opponent, and rest was the right move.
Now Wade will again face the team he cheered for as a kid and will do so with a bruised right knee that is annoying but not debilitating. During the Bucks series, he appeared to have little trouble jumping but grimaced at times on landings.
So how will he manage it, against a team that is sure to bump him around, especially if he is defended by Jimmy Butler or Kirk Hinrich?
"I'm on the right path," Wade said after the final pre-series practice.
That qualified as optimism from him, as he has recently used phrases like "not even close."
Even in his healthiest of times, he's struggled some against Chicago, especially in the United Center and especially in the playoffs—he will admit that the Heat won the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals somewhat in spite of him.
In 34 regular-season games against the Bulls, at home or on the road, he has averaged 21.9 points on 46.7 percent shooting. Most players would take those numbers. But they are below his career norms of 24.7 points on 48.9 percent shooting.
So, in this series, he will need to deal with the distraction of Chicago—and its corresponding friends and family commitments—as well as the discomfort of his knee.
His goal, under those circumstances, is to be something close to himself.
2. How Much Space Will Heat Shooters Find?
If any other opponent had as many players injured or ill as the Chicago Bulls, no one would give it a chance to compete against the Miami Heat.
But the Bulls have something else: They have a proven system, implemented by their head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and fully understood by every person who takes the court.
That system requires an offensive team to exhibit considerable patience, since the first option is often not available. The Heat have demonstrated more of that this season than in any before.
Even so, they still struggle to unleash one of their primary weapons against Chicago..
During the regular season, Miami averaged 8.7 made three-pointers per game.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, Allen made 13 from deep in just four games, an average of 3.3 all by himself.
In four games against the Bulls, the Heat averaged just 5.3 as a team.
That was the second-fewest for Miami against any team, and the sample size (two games) against the Lakers was smaller.
Many times, they don't even get the attempts, as the Bulls squeeze the corners, where Ray Allen and Shane Battier so often camp out.
The Heat will need to keep swinging the ball to get the looks that make them so lethal.
1. Will the Bulls Fluster LeBron James?
LeBron James knew this series was coming.
He knew it during the season, and he knew it even as the Brooklyn Nets pushed the Chicago Bulls to seven games.
"I picked them," James said of Chicago.
Now the Bulls will pick at James and try to get him to crack.
James was playing as freely and brilliantly as at any point of his career when he visited Chicago on March 27. His team had a 27-game win streak. And still he lost his cool.
After a couple of hard fouls that he deemed "not basketball plays," James threw a shoulder shiver at Carlos Boozer and received a flagrant foul.
That led Ray Allen to approach him the next day.
“I had to remind him of who I see him as, and how great he is, and that we all follow his lead,” Allen said.
James' view of that conversation:
He was saying that basically for me, I can’t ever look frustrated or be out of sync or out of whack if something happens on the floor. Because me being a leader on the team, people not only will see a weakness but some guys may also think they can do it as well. Because I can play frustrated, or I can play at times while talking to the refs a little bit more than I should, but other guys always can’t. So I have to always be in tune.
He is, no matter how the Bulls test him.