MIAMI — Things have been far too cushy lately for the Miami Heat. Heck, LeBron James’ fiancée even called him “Honey Bunny’’ on a video shown during James’ MVP presentation Sunday.
It’s become apparent what the Heat really need now is some adversity. After all, they were specialists at overcoming obstacles during the playoffs last year, when they became the first team to trail in three straight series en route to a championship.
Article continues below ...
Well, the Heat have some now. A team that had won 41 of its previous 43 games was stunned 93-86 by Chicago in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal Monday night at American Airlines Arena.
“It’s been a little bit too pretty around here, to be honest with you,’’ Heat center Chris Bosh said after the loss. “Everybody is going to kiss your (butt) a little bit (when it’s pretty) and everything’s hunky-dory. But you don’t just show up in this league and win games.’’
The Heat seemingly had been able to do that since their incredible run started Feb. 3. Well, against teams other than the Bulls.
Since then, Miami is 2-2 against the Bulls and 39-1 against everyone else. During this calendar year, the Heat have lost three times to Chicago.
“I really believe that we just give them our all,’’ guard Nate Robinson said of Chicago’s success against the Heat. “We just go out and play.’’
It sounds simple. And it looked simple for Robinson, who scored 24 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and 11 in the fourth quarter, when the Bulls outscored the Heat 35-24.
During that pivotal fourth quarter, Chicago forward Jimmy Butler had 11 of his 21 points and five of his game-high 14 rebounds as he put the finishing touches on a third straight game of playing all 48 minutes. The Bulls, who walloped Miami 46-32 on the boards, overcame a 76-69 deficit with 6½ minutes left and ended up scoring the game’s last 10 points.
So now the Heat have some adversity. They made good use of it last season, when they trailed Indiana 2-1 in an East semifinal, Boston 3-2 in the East finals and Oklahoma City 1-0 in the NBA Finals.
“This is what we need,’’ Bosh said. “You always need adversity in the playoffs. We don’t want to lose at home, of course not. But that’s what it is, and it’s going to be a hell of a series. We knew that coming into it. We didn’t expect to lose Game 1. We didn’t expect to lose any games at home. But it’s a kick in the chin. We’ll have to get up, dust ourselves off and counter.’’
One might say the Heat were dusting cobwebs off Monday after having not played since finishing off a 4-0 first-round sweep of Milwaukee on April 28. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra shrugged off that being a factor, but that opinion was not unanimous.
“They haven’t played in a long time, so they were a little rusty,’’ said center Joakim Noah, whose Bulls won at Brooklyn on Saturday in Game 7 of a first-round series.
It sure looked that way at the start. The Heat missed their first seven shots and fell behind 8-2.
“We wanted to defy the odds and not come out sluggish, but we did,’’ said guard Dwyane Wade, who had 14 points in his return after missing the finale against Milwaukee due to a sore knee and actually looked less sluggish than most Miami players on a night the Heat shot 39.7 percent.
Layoffs usually haven’t been a problem for James. The last time he had one as long as the most recent seven days off came in the 2009 playoffs, when his Cleveland Cavaliers had two stretches of eight days off.
In the games he played after each of those stints, James averaged 41.5 points and shot 64 percent. Asked about that before Monday’s game, James said, “You give me time to rest my body, then it works I guess triple than anybody else.’’
So much for that. James shot a meager 1 of 6 in the first half for two points and finished 8 of 17 for a team-high 24 points.
“I wasn’t concerned about me,’’ said James, who insisted he was “not stunned” by the loss. “I didn’t really worry about (the tough first half). We came out and just couldn’t make a shot. The layoff, our rhythm. We had some unbelievable looks.’’
James also usually stars on nights in which NBA commissioner David Stern stops by to hand him an MVP trophy, which Stern did Monday for the fourth time. In his previous three MVP coronation nights, James’ teams had gone 3-0 while he averaged 33.7 points.
Savannah Brinson might have revealed a soft side to her future husband Sunday when she called him “Honey Bunny’’ and James cracked up. The problem was most of the Miami players looked soft Monday.
That’s happened before this season against Chicago. The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 48-28 in a 96-89 Jan. 4 win at Miami and 43-31 in a 101-97 win March 27 in Chicago, which stopped Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
“They’re a physical team,’’ Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. “They’re a great rebounding team period. That’s one of our weaknesses. We got to control the boards … (Rebounding) was a big difference. They outrebounded us, so they controlled the game.”
Yes, the Bulls did. And over is Miami’s most recent winning streak, which had been 12 overall regular-season and playoff games.
“Nobody has us winning any games,’’ Robinson said of this series. “I heard we were going to get swept.’’
Maybe, though, this is a wake-up call for the Heat. After all, Bosh figures it’s time things get a little less pretty.