MIAMI — Go ahead, say the Miami Heat aren’t good at a physical game. They claim it provides added motivation.
Having won 41 of 43 games entering an Eastern Conference semifinal against the Chicago Bulls, things were getting a little routine at Heat headquarters. Then came the stunning 93-86 loss to the Bulls in Game 1.
After Miami got hammered 46-32 on the boards, the old question resurfaced: Can the Heat be beaten with physical play?
“It gives us motivation and everything,’’ center Chris Bosh said of when he hears that. “It gives us a purpose to do a better job as far as rebounding, as far as physicality is concerned.’’
The Heat sure were fired up in Game 2. They clobbered the Bulls 115-78 Wednesday to tie the series 1-1. They outrebounded Chicago 41-29, the first time in six meetings of the teams this season that Miami has won the board battle.
It was a physical game that featured nine technicals (six by Chicago and three by Miami), ejections of Bulls center Joakim Noah and forward Taj Gibson and a flagrant foul by Miami center Chris Andersen. In the end, the Heat kicked sand in the face of the Bulls.
But one game does not make anybody throw away a season’s worth of scouting reports. Entering Friday’s Game 3 at the United Center in Chicago, the book remains that one of the best ways to try to beat the Heat is with physical play, even if Bosh scoffs at that.
“We’re good at every (style of) game,’’ Bosh said. “We’re good at the slow grind-it-out pace. We’re good at fast break. We’re good at everything. We’re built many different ways.’’
Being on a team that went 66-16 during the regular season and had a 27-game winning streak certainly gives Bosh a right to say the Heat are good in all aspects. But there is some validity to a belief Miami’s Achilles heel can be physicality.
The Heat have lost a combined five times this calendar year to Chicago and Indiana, the East’s two most bruising outfits. They’ve only lost four games to all other teams since the calendar turned to 2013.
“Everybody is going to have to try to find a way to say you can beat any team,’’ Heat forward LeBron James said of the notion brawn can beat the Heat. “We don’t worry about that. We just go out and play our game.’’
But if there are any doubts about how good the Heat are in slugfests, they might have ample chance to prove themselves the remainder of this postseason. If the Heat get by the Bulls, who are so depleted the duct table holding them together soon might really unravel, they could run into the Pacers in the East final. Then in the NBA Finals they could see rugged Memphis, which battered the Heat in a game last November, or San Antonio, another tough team.
How do the Heat match up with the Spurs? Who knows? They exchanged sitting out star players during two regular-season meetings.
“You don’t win a championship without having a few scars,’’ forward Shane Battier said of the physical postseason road the Heat might have.
“It’s great,’’ Bosh said about that topic. “(Chicago) is a perfect team for us to play right now.’’
Call it on-the-job training. The Heat are getting fitted for hard hats, and they might need to keep them on the rest of the playoffs.
Bosh, playing out of position at center, talks about how he likes to bang even if many regard him as a finesse guy. Battier mostly sticks to the perimeter although he won’t hesitate to step in to draw a charge.
James is not one to get pushed around. And the Heat do have burly forward Udonis Haslem and the energetic Andersen willing to play enforcer roles.
Still, the Heat are undersized and at times can be overpowered. Taking advantage of that might be the only chance anybody has to beat them in a series.
“We got punched in the mouth (Wednesday). We’ll be back in two days,” Noah vowed after the Game 2 wipeout.
The Heat are expecting that.
“We definitely know this game, this series is going to be very physical and we look forward to it,’’ James said. “We have an old rivalry with (the Chicago). They don’t like us. We don’t like them. So that’s how it is.’’
This would be a great series if the Bulls had their full outfit. But Luol Deng (illness) and Kirk Hinrich (calf) each have missed the first two games and it’s doubtful either will be back for Game 3.
There continue to be rumblings Chicago star guard Derrick Rose (knee) will play Friday for the first time this season and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told his players Thursday they “have to be aware of the possibility.’’ But it would be a huge surprise if Rose is walking through that door.
Put it all together and it’s a long shot the Bulls can win this series even if they were able to seize homecourt advantage with the stunning Game 1 win. Still, this series does provide the Heat with some good practice at playing physical for down the road.
Heading into Friday’s game, the Heat would be well served to sharpen their elbows. They might want to practice some hip checks.
“We got to continue to take their hits and make sure we come back with some of our own,’’ said guard Dwyane Wade. Then Wade paused and said with a laugh, “That was hits as in scoring, the crowd going, you know.’’
Don’t be surprised, though, if Wade really is talking about body blows as this postseason continues.