Heat aiming for 3-1 lead over Bulls in East finals
All the Chicago Bulls say they need to do now is something they've already managed 71 times this season, more than any other team in the league.
Win a game.
It's that simple. No need for cluttered thinking now. Even after everything that has gone wrong in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat - who have handed the Bulls their first two-game losing streak since February - Chicago knows it can reclaim the upper hand in the series by winning Game 4 in Miami on Tuesday night.
Thing is, the Heat know that sort of thinking as well, since they had the same thoughts after a Game 1 blowout loss in Chicago.
''All we've done to this point is do exactly what they did at home,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday as practice wound down. ''They won the first game at home and we have to find a way in a possession game to come out ahead again tomorrow night. There is not going to be one easy possession in this series.''
Chicago can attest to that.
Defense was clearly going to be the norm in this series, with the Bulls and Heat ranking 1-2 in field-goal percentage defense. Chicago has managed 160 points in Games 2 and 3, its lowest two-game total of the season, and keying on reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose has been the biggest - and most obvious - key. Rose is 15 for 42 from the floor in Chicago's last two losses.
The Heat want Rose to try to do it alone. After all, not wanting to have one star option - and only one star option - is why Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh came together in the first place.
''There's a reason why we're playing together,'' Wade said. ''After so many years of that, you want to do something else. That's the reason we're playing together. But he has a good team. ... He's in a little different world than we were in.''
But to hear the Bulls tell it, defense let them down more than offense.
''We have to bring more intensity to the game,'' Rose said Monday, after the Bulls met at their downtown hotel and took a break from the practice grind. ''We have to be the first to the floor, first on the rebounding side. Guards still have to get in and rebound and help the bigs. And we have to play more aggressive on both ends. Way more.''
In short, the Bulls will be desperate.
James says there's only one way he and the Heat can answer that.
''We're playing desperate too,'' James said. ''Both teams are playing hard. We're just as desperate as they are to win another game at home.''
Sunday was an emotional grind for the Bulls, for so many reasons. It started with questions about an interview Rose gave in which he allegedly said NBA players use performance-enhancing drugs - something he emphatically denied later in the day. Then Joakim Noah used an anti-gay slur in an exchange with a fan during the first quarter, and didn't score another point the rest of the night.
Noah met with NBA officials on Monday, after which he again apologized for his remark.
Oh, on top of it all, the Bulls lost 96-85, which left Noah pointing toward a line Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has used often this season.
''Thibs always talks about walking through a fire together,'' Noah said. ''That's what it's all about. You win Game 1, there is a lot of love after the game. You lose two, it's like the end of the world. But if we can get this one on Tuesday tied up going home, that would be a good position to be in.''
If they're going to tie the series, they need to find a way to contain Bosh. He already has games of 30 and 34 points in this series, the latter coming in Sunday night's win - and he's managed to overcome the memory of his disasterous 1 for 18 shooting night in Chicago earlier this season.
Only two players had a pair of 30-plus nights against the Bulls in the regular season, those being Wade and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge.
''It is the Eastern Conference finals and it's coming down to will and determination,'' Bosh said. ''I want people to know I want it.''
The Heat needed a big night from Bosh in Game 3, if for no other reason than to counter a monster effort from Carlos Boozer, who finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds.
It was the 10th time in Boozer's career that he finished with at least that many points and rebounds in game. Somewhat strangely, his teams are only 5-5 when that happens.
''We're confident,'' Boozer said. ''We're a confident group of guys. We believe in our system and we believe in each other. We believe we can get a win.''
The Heat remain the only unbeaten team at home in these playoffs, having won all seven tries so far.
If that holds on Tuesday, they'll be one win away from the NBA finals, and while it may be tempting to look ahead, James says Miami cannot afford that luxury.
''We've got a lot of work to do still,'' James said. ''We're just seizing the moment. Honestly, we've been through a lot this season, a lot of criticism. But we don't care. We just go out and just play our game. Coach Spo gives us a game plan and we just try to go out there and execute it to the best of our ability and get wins.''
Tim Reynolds on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds