5 Factors That Could Impact Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls Series
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The Heat, after rolling the Milwaukee Bucks in four straight, arrived in the second round healthy, resting and confident.
The Bulls, after surviving the Brooklyn Nets in the full seven, arrived in tatters.
Yet Chicago's Game 1 win put the Heat on their heels, and they responded with a rout, winning by the largest margin in their postseason history, while handing the Bulls their worst-ever playoff loss, 115-78.
That Game 2 also featured nine technicals, two ejections and several confrontations.
"We flat out sucked," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said.
Still, as LeBron James noted, "It's just one game."
In fact, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elaborated:
"For Chicago, it's almost a perfect loss. You get beat by a number like that and have guys ejected, you can come back with a clean slate the next game with a chip on your shoulder."
The Bulls also come back home, where the United Center will surely rock, with more than 20,000 urging on the decided underdogs.
So what can alter the state of the series?
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
5. Change of Scenery to Chicago
The officials figure to be friendlier to the Bulls in Chicago.
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In a lot of NBA cities, the Miami Heat are now treated as celebrities rather than adversaries.
Boos have turned to oohs, as fans—wearing Heat jerseys—marvel over Miami's speed, lobs and slams.
The residents of the Windy City still root solely for the home team, the Chicago Bulls, and they still hold a healthy hatred for visitors to the United Center.
“They know basketball, they’re very passionate and they’re very loud,” LeBron James said. “I love those atmospheres.”
That atmosphere should be especially hostile for Games 3 and 4, after things got so testy between the teams in Game 2.
Miami split two games at the United Center this regular season, after losing both contests in the building last regular season and both contests in the building during the regular season before that.
And while the Heat did win two out of three in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, the second victory certainly didn't come easy—it required a furious comeback in the final four minutes.
The Heat started the season 11-11 on the road, then won 20 out of 21.
The one loss was against Chicago, as even James, uncharacteristically, lost composure.
He will be challenged again, by the Bulls and their fans, as well as by officials who may be swayed by the latter.
4. An Escalation of Physical Play
In Game 1, the Bulls were the team that lost its cool.
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LeBron James not only played brilliantly in Game 2 against the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat forward also played peacemaker.
After a hard foul of James—similar to those that upset him on March 27 in Chicago—Chris Andersen charged over in support. James pulled him back from the Bulls.
So long as James keeps his composure in the games to come, it's hard to see the Heat losing the series. In fact, it was Chicago that got overheated in Game 2, drawing six technical fouls and two ejections.
But what if the Bulls push and pull him so much that he loses his cool?
What if suspensions follow, the way they did during the late 1990s battles between the Heat and New York Knicks.
"We got a rivalry and the same way they don't like us, we don't like them and that's how it is," James said of the Bulls.
Still, while he promised to "hold my ground" in scrums, he added "I don't get too rah-rah about it because nothing's going to happen."
Chris Bosh made the case that Game 2 "wasn't that physical," but that it may have just been the start.
"We have to have that physical mind-set to just bring it to those guys," Bosh said.
So long as they also bring their restraint.
3. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh Get Going
Dwyane Wade started getting more comfortable as Game 2 progressed.
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It was a bit alarming.
There was Dwyane Wade, who has admitted continuing issues with his right knee, rising through the air...and getting blocked by the front of the rim.
That came after he sat out Game 4 of the first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks and authored a relatively inefficient performance in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls.
As Game 2 progressed, however, Wade eased some concerns. He spent some time in the locker room, missing his regular early second-quarter rotation with the second unit. But he did finish with a couple of emphatic dunks.
"I felt better from the second quarter on," Wade said. "It's coming. Hopefully Game 3 will be better."
The Heat hope the same for Chris Bosh, who has been ordinary offensively so far in this second-round series. Playing fewer minutes than during the regular season, Bosh made 8-of-20 shots in the first two games, averaging 11.0 points.
Miami showed in Game 2 that it can get scoring from elsewhere, with Ray Allen and the rapidly-improving Norris Cole combining for 39 points.
Still, one would assume, based on their track records, that Wade and Bosh are due for breakout offensive outings.
Will those games come in Chicago?
They could, though Wade has sometimes struggled in the city of his youth and, during the 2010-11 season, the United Center was the site of the worst game (1-for-18) of Bosh's career.
2. The Return of Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich?
Will Luol Deng be healthy enough to battle LeBron James?
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Luol Deng averaged 38.4 minutes during the regular season.
Kirk Hinrich averaged 29.4 minutes.
And even with them logging that time, the Chicago Bulls were, at best, a slightly above-average team.
That has made the Bulls' recent success without them even more remarkable—closing out the Brooklyn Nets and then taking Game 1 from the Miami Heat.
Still, there were signs in Game 2 that the ragtag replacement crew is losing steam.
Jimmy Butler, who has taken many of Deng's responsibilities, finally got a brief rest after playing all 48 minutes of the previous three games. But he wasn't as dynamic.
Nate Robinson, who has taken Hinrich's spot, made only 3-of-11 shots, rarely breaking down the Heat defense.
Daequan Cook and Marquis Teague, pressed into reserve duty with Butler and Robinson elevated, looked overmatched, missing all nine of their shots.
Unfortunately for Chicago, help does not appear on the way.
Hinrich's calf injury is not healing quickly, and he recently underwent another MRI.
Deng lost 15 pounds due to complications from a spinal tap, an experience he called "scary," and one that hasn't allowed him to resume basketball activities.
So, at this point, it seems a stretch to count on either.
But you can probably count out the Bulls without them.
1. The Return of Derrick Rose?
In warmups, Derrick Rose hasn't appeared all that limited.
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Not long ago, one of the most difficult things in basketball was defending Derrick Rose on the court.
Now one of the most difficult things is defending him off of it.
Rose continues to go through pregame and shootaround workouts, in full view of the media, prior to putting on a gray suit and acting like an assistant coach.
Fans and media members continue to wonder aloud why he won't play, especially when so many of his teammates are playing with injuries and illness, or, in the case of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, dealing with more recent physical issues.
And the rumors continue to swirl that he's considering a return.
So here's the key question:
What if he does?
What if he does against the Miami Heat, a team that has handled him fairly well, even when Rose was at the top of his game?
After winning the 2010-11 MVP, Rose struggled with his shot against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. And look at Chicago's two wins against Miami last season. One came without him. The other came in spite of him, as he shot 1-for-13 and didn't play down the stretch.
Still, you can't talk about the Bulls without mentioning Rose.
Would his return have an impact? Absolutely.
At this stage, however, that impact might be felt more in website clicks and television ratings than on the scoreboard.