The Miami Heat aim to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals Friday night with a road date against the Chicago Bulls. The Heat's massive win on Wednesday did not erase its disappointing loss on Monday, so Miami must win one of its next two games to regain home-court advantage against the Bulls.
The Heat found a way to discombobulate the Bulls' normally solid defense in Game 2, scoring 56 points in the paint during a 115-78 blowout. Miami also created opportunities through its own defense, turning 17 Bulls turnovers into easy transition buckets.
What remains uncertain is whether any of the Bulls' injured starters will be returning for Game 3. Luol Deng said Thursday, "I want to play, but I don't know what I can do." Kirk Hinrich had another MRI taken on his left calf, coach Tom Thibodeau called his condition "not great."
Then there's Derrick Rose. He has been practicing with the team for months, and could return from last May's ACL injury at seemingly any time. But he has not dressed once during the postseason, and his public statements have done nothing to make his return seem likely.
The Bulls were physical and emotional on Wednesday, committing 27 personal fouls and getting whistled for six technical fouls. Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah were both ejected Wednesday, and Thibodeau called on his team to be more composed.
"We got to do a much better job of that," he said. "We just got to be tough, mentally, physically, emotionally. We got to be a lot stronger."
What won't change is the Bulls' physical style of defense. Miami committed only 25 turnovers in the first two games, but in Game 1 the Heat missed plenty of open looks. If they fall like they did in Game 2, the Heat will likely be in position to win.
The Bulls have yet to show an ability to score efficiently. Miami's exceptional help defense has limited the Bulls' pick-and-roll heavy offense. Nate Robinson exploded for 25 points in Game 1, but he has shot only 42% for the series.
Chicago's United Center will be loud on Friday, but the Heat have won there plenty of times over the past three seasons (Miami went 1-1 at Chicago in the regular season, and won two games at Chicago during the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals).
"The fans are very loud," Dwyane Wade said Thursday. "At the end of the day, once that settles down, it's the game of basketball and you have to execute your game plan."
Game 3 is at 8pm with coverage on ESPN.