Game 1 loss to Bulls forces Heat to re-focus
MIAMI — The Miami Heat have been a pretty loose bunch the past three months. They’ve had pregame dunk contests. They made a “Harlem Shake” video. Forward Shane Battier grew a funny mustache and everybody laughed.
There didn’t seem to be any laughing at practice Tuesday.
A day after suffering a stunning 93-86 home loss to the undermanned Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal, Miami was one serious outfit.
“When you lose a game, your ears seem to work better,’’ Battier, whose Fu Manchu-like mustache from last week is gone, said of the Heat’s focus entering Wednesday’s Game 2 at AmericanAirlines Arena. “You seem to be more open for adjustments.’’
Plenty of teams lose games but it hasn’t happened often to the Heat lately.
Entering Monday, they had won 41 of their previous 43 games. And one of those losses had been April 2 to New York when the Heat were resting forward LeBron James and guard Dwyane Wade late in the regular season. The other was March 27 at Chicago when the Bulls snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
So pardon the Heat if it felt a little strange Tuesday after a loss. They’d only had one real defeat in more than three months and hadn’t had one of any kind in more than a month.
“It’s just something we haven’t done in a while,’’ Wade said.
With that in mind, Wade wondered if a defeat actually could help Miami. Center Chris Bosh had said after Monday’s game it could since things had been “too pretty around’’ the Heat lately because “everybody is going to kiss your’’ butt when you’re winning regularly.
“It can be,’’ Wade said of a loss being beneficial. “We haven’t lost much around here. We understand we’re not going to go undefeated for the rest of the year. It’s just frustrating that we lost at home in the first game against the Bulls. But it happens. We have to come out and make adjustments. No excuses.’’
To their credit, the Heat didn’t offer excuses after Monday’s defeat. They didn’t complain about having seven straight days off before Game 1 and getting rusty.
Then again, how could the Heat offer any excuses considering what the Bulls have gone through? They’ve played all season without star guard Derrick Rose (knee) and didn’t have forward Luol Deng (illness) and guard Kirk Hinrich (calf) in Game 1.
Rose will definitely be sidelined Wednesday and Deng and Hinrich might be out again. A hospitalized Deng is still in Chicago and appears unlikely to fly to Miami. Hinrich is still hurting.
But the Bulls don’t seem too bothered. They figure there’s no reason they can’t steal another one on the road.
“We’re not satisfied,’’ said center Joakim Noah, whose 11 rebounds Monday helped Chicago have a pivotal 46-32 advantage on the boards. “We’ve been getting some big victories the last couple of games, but we’re not satisfied. We’re going to stay hungry.’’
The Bulls, who won at Brooklyn last Saturday, are the first NBA team since Orlando in 2009 to claim a Game 7 on the road and then win Game 1 of the next series on the road. The Magic that year won at Boston in Game 7 before winning at Cleveland, featuring James, in Game 1 of an East final they eventually claimed.
James sure doesn’t want to be on the losing side again. But will that translate into the four-time MVP coming out more aggressive in Game 2?
James seemed content to defer in a first half Monday in which he shot just 1 of 6 for 2 points. He did finish 8 of 17 for 24 points.
“Yeah, I think so,’’ Noah said of James coming out more aggressive. “No question about it. I think he’s going to.’’
James, though, wasn’t tipping his hand.
“I’m going to play my game,’’ he said. “I don’t come out with a mindset if I’m going to be aggressive or not. I come out and I play my game and we’ll see what happens.’’
The Heat, whose 66-16 mark was 21 games better than Chicago’s during the regular season, remain heavy favorites in the series. Two years ago, the Bulls had a better regular-season record than Miami and won Game 1 in the East final before the Heat reeled off four straight victories to take the series.
Yet nobody on the Heat wants to find out what might happen if they fall behind 2-0, with a pair of losses at home. That’s why Bosh called Game 2 a must win.
“Yeah, I would think so,’’ Bosh said. “We’re here. That’s the reality that we face. And our backs are against the wall right now, so we’re going to have to respond.’’
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra offered a similar assessment of his team’s mentality.
“We have to fight for our playoff lives right now,’’ Spoelstra said.
Getting his players to realize that sense of urgency apparently wasn’t a problem Tuesday. They were all ears.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson