MIAMI – The Miami Heat have been in this less-than-ideal spot before.
They trailed Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, needed to win a pair of elimination games against Boston in the East finals and then dropped Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Oklahoma City. And when it was all said and done, the Heat walked away with the title.
So that might explain why there was no sense of panic in Heat land Tuesday, and not even much of a sense of anger. Dropping Game 1 of the East semifinals to the Bulls on Monday night was hardly what the Heat wanted, though could end up serving as a wake-up call for a team that made it through a 66-win regular season without many rough patches.
“We haven’t lost in a while, so it was very different to come in here and deal with a loss and to deal with it in the playoffs at home,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said after a video-and-practice session. “It was different from the standpoint of what we’ve been used to lately, but not anything different from what we’ve been used to as a team. We’ve been in tough moments. We’ve lost games before.”
The Bulls’ 93-86 win in the series opener was filled with statistical anomalies, such as Miami shooting just under 40 percent (its second-worst showing in 87 games overall this season) and the Bulls scoring 35 points in the fourth quarter – matching the most the Heat allowed in the final 12 minutes of regulation all season.
Still, the Heat know some things still need to change, and in a hurry, or else the reigning champions could be in a gigantic amount of trouble.
“Playoffs are all about revealing who you are,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s either a win or a loss, and so we lost the first game. We have to figure it out, somehow, some way, to win the next game. And that’s all it is.
“We have to fight for our playoff lives right now, to play a much harder and much more committed game together [tonight].”
Oddly, the same sentiments were being uttered a few miles south of where Spoelstra was standing, with the Bulls saying many of the same things after reviewing tape at their hotel.
The Bulls’ lineup isn’t expected to change for Game 2. Luol Deng, who needed a spinal tap to rule out meningitis last week, still is not with the team, and coach Tom Thibodeau said a decision about flying him to Miami likely wouldn’t be made until this morning – so, barring a seismic change in thinking, there is no way he would play tonight. And guard Kirk Hinrich was limping when the team exited the conference room it used for meetings, suggesting that the calf injury he’s dealing with could keep him out of a fifth straight game.
Then again, the Bulls showed on Monday — again — that even their depleted crew is more than good enough to win. Nate Robinson scored 27 points in the opener, even after needing 10 stitches during the game to close a nasty cut on his chin. He came into Monday averaging 9.6 points in 25 previous appearances against Miami.
That’s how good it’s going for the Bulls right now.
“We’re not satisfied,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “We’ve been getting some big victories the last couple games, but we’re not satisfied. We’re going to stay hungry, make our adjustments and try to play even better.”
The Bulls haven’t won three straight road games since mid-January. They have a chance to pull that off Wednesday, coming off a Game 7 win in Brooklyn on Saturday and then stunning Miami in Game 1 two nights later.
If this keeps up, the Bulls might struggle to keep the underdog status that it somehow converts into fuel.
“The outside shouldn’t matter. It really shouldn’t,” Thibodeau said. “The only thing that matters, really, is what we think. So whether it’s praise or criticism from the outside, that’s not important. It’s what we think on the inside. So we know if we do the right things that go into winning, we’re going to have a chance to win and that’s all we want to focus in on. All the other stuff, I think, just gets you distracted.”
Noah said he was planning to sit in the sunshine on Tuesday, sip water, maybe squeeze a nap or a massage into his afternoon agenda. In other words, he was basically going to have a mini-vacation.
Make no mistake, though. The Bulls are taking this opportunity super-seriously. That’s why the theme of their meetings on Tuesday was about ways to get better.
“Everything,” guard Jimmy Butler – who has played all 48 minutes in three straight games – said when asked about which areas where the Bulls need to see improvement in Game 2. “We made a lot of mistakes in our offense, our defense. They missed a lot of open shots and we made some shots. I feel that we can execute better, and we will.”
There’s no arguing Miami can execute better. Or at least, shoot better.
The tape confirmed what the stat sheet, their eyes, and the eyes of everyone else who watched Game 1 said: Miami missed tons of open shots on Monday night. So while there will be adjustments to make, the simplest way for the Heat to get back on track is just make more shots, easy as that sounds.
“It ain’t about Xs and Os in this series,” Heat forward and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James said. “It’s about will and determination to win the series, for both teams. ... We want our shooters to shoot and they will continue to shoot because we will continue to find them. We’ve got the utmost confidence in them.”