Bulls ready for the Heat in South Beach

After a lackluster Game 2 in which they scored 75 points — 29 in the second half — on 34 percent shooting and lost homecourt advantage in an 85-75 loss, the Chicago Bulls should still feel confident about their NBA Finals hopes heading into Games 3 and 4 in Miami.

The Miami Heat, too, will be ready to go after what they probably feel wasn’t their best shot at the Bulls. Yet they still come back home, to the warmth of South Beach, even in the best-of-seven series 1-1.
For the Bulls, the task is simple: score the basketball. They had a tough going in Game 2, bricking 11 of 37 shots in the second half and scored a franchise playoff-low 10 points in the fourth quarter. That won’t get it done, though the Bulls know that and have been hard at work in the three days off between games.

“How was it having a day off? I think it was much needed. Mentally, it
takes a toll, but this is what it’s all about. There’s going to be
highs, there’s going to be lows,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said on Friday. “We hadn’t had a day off in a long time.
Just to get away a little bit from the game and come back today and
have a great practice. We’re excited about Sunday.”

Chicagoans are excited about Sunday, too. It’s really an odd format the NBA is implementing with the Eastern and Western Conference finals. The Bulls/Heat played Game 1 on Sunday, May 15, though had to wait until May 18 for Game 2 and Sunday, May 22 for Game 3 (7:30 CST, TNT).

On the flip side, the Oklahoma City Thunder/Dallas Mavericks have gone every other day: Game 1 on Tuesday, May 17, Game 2 on May 19 and Game 3 on Saturday, May 21.

It’s left the Bulls and fans anxious for Sunday’s tilt in Miami, the same feeling Heat fans had waiting through Games 1 and 2. Although it doesn’t hamper either team, the Heat seem to be the team getting the minor edge with the four-day layoff as Udonis Haslem, 30, who played a major role in Game 2, will get some time to rest up for Game 3, a big game for both teams.

You can’t blame the NBA, though. This Bulls/Heat series is driving up the revenues for all parties and it’s only smart for the NBA to draw out the series.

The top-seeded Bulls have gone 44 games without back-to-back losses, a feat that’s on the line as they take their talents to South Beach. They’re going to Miami with some questions, though.

No, these Bulls won’t be partying, though their play on the court will have to improve if they want to take a game in Miami to steal back homecourt advantage. Then maybe there will be some time to party.

As much as we’d like to think the Bulls can take a game in Miami, it’s not a guarantee. The Heat are 6-0 at home and have closed out two opponents in Miami. The crowd may be late arriving, and it certainly shows with the Heat’s slow starts at times, but that hasn’t prevented them from, as Charlie Sheen says, winning.

This much is certain, if the Bulls fail to take a game in Miami, come back to Chicago down 3-1, the chances they win the series are very, very bleak. It isn’t impossible, but that isn’t a situation you’d want to put yourself with the Heat, who are taking a 1-1 split through the first two games heading home despite averaging a meager 83.5 points per game versus the Bulls.

“Nobody’s thinking about suntans right now,” Kyle Korver said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “We’re thinking about Game 3.”

The Bulls have had success in Game 3 through the first two rounds, defeating the Indiana Pacers 88-84 and Atlanta Hawks 99-82. In both instances, the Bulls took the series lead (3-0 versus the Pacers, 2-1 versus the Hawks) and gave themselves a cushion into Game 4. The Bulls are 0-2 in Game 4 during the playoffs.

“This is going to be a crazy game,” Derrick Rose said. “They’re going to have a
lot of confidence. But some way, somehow, we have to get this win. We
have to have more intensity than them and play way more aggressive.”

It just seems like in games the Bulls feel like they need, talk as if they need, they win. They know Game 2 was very winnable, but have no ones but themselves to blame for the loss. Simply, they couldn’t hit a shot to save a life.

Rose was putrid in defeat, scoring 21 points on 7-for-23 shooting. He missed plenty of makeable shots, but the Bulls credited the Heat’s defense for his poor showing. Do layup misses need to be credited to the other team?

“You have to give their defense credit. It’s 73 73 with 4:36 to go, and,
you know, it’s a make or miss league. He’s got to be aggressive,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have
to play with more pace.. Derrick had some shots that he
normally makes.”

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The Bulls will need a team-wide effort in order to win in Miami, negate the Heat’s “Big Three.”

It’s true: Rose missed three of 13 shots in the paint, not a ratio we normally witness from the league’s Most Valuable Player. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, though uncharacteristically, was missing layups; and made it difficult on himself, at times, turning easy finishes into reverse layup misses.

LeBron James’ 29 points led the Heat, who got a balanced attack, receiving 24 points from Dwyane Wade and 13 from Udonis Haslem, who really stole the show with his breakout performance.

“He gets the game ball,” James said to TNT’s Craig Sager after Game 2.

The Heat did a good job bringing help over on each of Rose’s drives, as many of them turned into contested layups — ones that Rose finishes nonetheless.

“He’s got to finish better,” Thibodeau said. “And usually that’s one of his strengths. He’s a great finisher.”

Rose should be fine for Game 3, and has bounced back from poor performances all season. The Bulls’ real issue will be how the supporting cast bounces back. That’s what the question-mark was heading into the playoffs, though it was quelled in Game 1 with Luol Deng scoring 21 points, Carlos Boozer with 14 and 28 off the bench.

They didn’t get the same type of balance in Game 2. Deng scored 13 points, Noah with nine and Taj Gibson with eight (all in the fourth quarter).

That’s not going to get it done. With Rose struggling, the Bulls’ cast had to step up. They couldn’t, and now the Bulls are even 1-1 with the Heat. The Bulls brought Carlos Boozer, whose seven-point performance in Game 2 added what’s been a tumultuous postseason for the Bulls’ $75 million man, for moments like these, though he hasn’t came through quite yet.

“Carlos will be fine,” Thibodeau said. “He missed some shots he normally
makes in close. We want him to be aggressive and attack. We have to
search him out a little more, get him more looks.”

Maybe that’s the case. Boozer’s lacked aggression throughout the playoffs, attempting under 11 field-goals per game. Let’s emphasize this again: the Bulls brought Boozer to Chicago on a five-year, $75 million contract to produce along the lines of 20 points and 10 rebounds. Take 20 shots if you have to, just produce.

11 field-goal attempts per game? How can he expect to get himself going by shooting so little?

Boozer missed seven of 10 shots in Game 2 and sat out the entire fourth quarter. It was the right move, as the Bulls failed to get much offense out of him in the first three quarters. And his backup, Gibson, scored eight of the Bulls’ 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Who was Boozer going to come in for in the fourth quarter?

He’s not looking like the player he did earlier this season — the one who averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds before the All-Star break — and is currently the Bulls’ second-best option at power forward behind Gibson. And that isn’t a good thing.

What can you do, though? Thibodeau will continue to let Boozer get out of his slump, which, besides for the 23-point, 10-rebound Game 6 performance versus the Hawks, has lasted the entire postseason.

That game, however, was somewhat of an aberration. He shot seven of 10 on jumpers in that game. Through Games 1 and 2 versus the Heat, Boozer’s gone 0-for-5 on jumpers. Case in point, his game is off right now, as it’s been all along.

Even with all of this, the Bulls were right in it, in position to win Game 2. Both teams struggled for points in Game 2, as the Heat scored 14 fourth quarter points. Hey, it’s better than the Bulls’ 10.

If you told the Bulls that they’d allow the Heat to score 85 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — in Game 2, they would take it. It was the offense that ran stagnant and must improve for the Bulls to hold much of a chance in South Beach.

It doesn’t help that Korver, who made 17 of his first 30 three’s, has missed 12 of his last 15. Some called for Korver to be off the court late in Game 2 — in favor of Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer — but the Bulls needed offense. Late in games, you won’t get it from Bogans or Brewer. Korver has proven he can be a go to guy, hitting several clutch shots during the regular-season and postseason. It’s foolish for Thibodeau to go away from him now, and when the Bulls need offense, he’s going to be on the court — hitting shots or not, he still spreads the floor in ways Bogans and Brewer do not.

But the Bulls will have to come out as a group, collectively play with the right attitude. South Beach can be a very dangerous area because of the extracurricular activities. This Bulls team has been focused all season, and should be ready for whatever the Heat throw their way in Game 3.

AmericanAirlines Arena will be a tough place to play in the East’s finals, but the Bulls have gone from a mediocre road team to one of the best. That doesn’t happen overnight. They’ve come a long way, and know that however good their defense is, it’s no use if the offense runs stagnant. It did Wednesday night, but the Bulls haven’t lost back-to-back games since early February. Why start now?

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