The Miami Heat made a statement by blowing out the Chicago Bulls in Game 2. After letting the opener slip away on home court, the defending champions put together their most complete performance of the playoffs so far to level the series at one.
Miami is unbeatable when it plays as well as it did Wednesday night. The Heat shot 60 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from beyond the arc, and got into the paint with ease. The Bulls simply had no answer for the multidimensional offensive attack.
Game 3 serves as a key stand for the Bulls. They must try to level the playing field again before the Heat start to pull away with the series. It starts on the defensive end for Chicago. The physical squad needs to keep LeBron James and Co. from getting a bunch of easy buckets down low.
The third game amounts to a turning-point contest for both sides. Either the Heat will start to establish their dominance or the Bulls will make it clear they are a serious threat. Here's a look at the important viewing information for the matchup, followed by a preview and prediction.
Where: United Center in Chicago, Ill.
When: Friday, May 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
Let's start with the most discussed player who hasn't played a single game all season: Derrick Rose. Chicago's star point guard is listed as doubtful for Game 3 by USA Today despite continued speculation about when he could return to the lineup.
It appears the Bulls must continue to battle the Heat without him. The debate will rage on about whether or not he should be pushing himself back onto the court in an attempt to help the team, but the Bulls who will suit up can't worry about that.
Miami is tough enough to beat when completely focused. Chicago has done a nice job of avoiding the potential distractions that could come along with the ongoing Rose saga, which is why it advanced from Round 1 and is tied with the Heat.
The main reason for the Bulls' success is their hustle and determination. The charge is being led by Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson. They are far from the most talented players in the league, but they might be the scrappiest.
In the playoffs, when every hustle play could be the difference between winning and losing, it's been enough for the Bulls to keep pace. The duo was a combined 6-of-17 from the floor in Game 2, which allowed Miami to cruise.
The Bulls don't have enough star power to keep up with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Instead, they need across-the-board contributions from everybody who steps on the floor, which leaves them far less margin for error.
On the flip side, the Heat are led by that explosive triumvirate, all of whom shot at least 50 percent in the Game 2 win. When James, Wade and Bosh are that effective, it only takes a little production from the role players for Miami to triumph. Ray Allen and Norris Cole provided that the last time out.
The Heat racked up 56 points in the paint to level the series. That's 24 more than in Game 1. When they can consistently get to the basket like that, a defense is at their mercy. Chicago's game plan must begin with finding a way to force the Heat into more jumpers, which is no easy task.
While it's too soon to call the game the Bulls' last stand, it's certainly a crucial Game 3—not only in terms of taking the series edge, but also regaining some confidence lost during the blowout.
Chicago should be able to keep it within striking distance, especially with help from the home crowd. In the end, however, expect Miami to pick up the key road win to take control of the series.
Heat 98, Bulls 92