MIAMI – If needed, there’s plenty of things Miami and the Bulls could use as extra motivation before meeting in a playoff series, like how the Heat rolled to a win when they met in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago or how the Bulls snapped the reigning champions’ 27-game winning streak down the stretch of this regular season.
Then again, maybe the simple fact these clubs don’t particularly like each other is all the fuel they’ll need.
Top-seeded Miami plays host to fifth-seeded Bulls in Game 1 of an East semifinal series Monday night, with the Heat coming off a week of rest after sweeping Milwaukee and the Bulls dealing with aftereffects of a grueling, seven-game first-round series.
The Bulls took an injury-and-illness-riddled roster into Brooklyn and ousted the Nets on Saturday night.
“Them being the Bulls is enough,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said Sunday. “Heat-Bulls, I think that’s enough to really get your minds going and have some passion for the series. I mean, it’s the second round. We have some major accomplishments we’re trying to get to and they’re a good, tough basketball team. I think given our history before, that’s enough to lace ’em up and get going.”
The teams split four regular-season meetings, each going 1-1 in home games.
For Miami, the biggest injury question is Dwyane Wade, who officially is listed as day-to-day with bone bruises around his right knee, but is expected to play Monday. For the Bulls, the medical report is far tougher to decipher. Luol Deng wrote on Twitter that he would “see you guys in Miami” after missing the end of the Brooklyn series because he needed a spinal tap to rule out meningitis, and Kirk Hinrich missed the last three games of Round 1 with a calf injury.
The status of Deng and Hinrich for Game 1 remained unclear Sunday.
“We know how good Miami is,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’re going to have to be at our best, or playing great basketball. They’re a very deep team, extremely well-coached, very well-balanced. So we’re going to have to be at our best, right from the start.”
The Bulls arrived in Miami early Sunday and took the day off, which was surely a well-needed break.
Meanwhile, a couple hours before LeBron James formally picked up his fourth NBA MVP award, the Heat were in their practice gymnasium at their home arena, mouth guards in place, knee pads in position, going through a physical workout. For the first time since ousting Milwaukee, they took the floor knowing which team would be their next foe.
“We’re preparing to make sure that we play our game, in our building,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We haven’t played in a week and we understand that. We’ve been working hard this week. Our guys are looking forward to getting out there and competing. So let’s tip this thing up.”
The Derrick Rose watch still is on for the Bulls.
The star point guard hasn’t played in more than a year after needing reconstructive knee surgery. Rose often works out before games and there almost daily is speculation about whether he will return in these playoffs – so the Heat say they will be ready either way.
“We gameplan with the awareness of everybody,” Spoelstra said. “But again, the majority of what we do won’t change. We’ve built up these habits.”
Regardless of who’s healthy or not, the Bulls got Miami’s attention – as if they didn’t have it already – by the way they fought through plenty of adversity in the opening round.
Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said after Saturday’s win in Brooklyn that he didn’t think many people expected them to win.
“We’ve been hearing that noise all year, that we don’t have enough, that we’re missing this and we’re missing that,” Boozer said.
James insisted the Heat aren’t among those who might think that way. In fact, the now four-time MVP said he expected the Bulls to pull off the rare trick of winning a Game 7 on the road against Brooklyn.
“It’s how it should be in the East right now,” James said. “It’s the top four teams. That’s what I believe. No matter the seedings, it’s the top four teams, with us, Chicago and Indiana-New York.”
Bulls center Joakim Noah said he expected a physical matchup – “It’s going to be a war,” he said – and the Heat said Sunday they were bracing for plenty of rugged play in this series.
In fact, it almost sounds like both sides would be disappointed otherwise.
“It’s going to be hard-fought,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “It’s going to be physical. It’s going to be emotional. And I think it’s going to be well-played. That’s all that matters.”
Miami needed only five games to beat the Bulls in the East finals in 2011, even after losing Game 1 of that series. The teams figured to be on a collision course last season before Rose went down in the first round, and this year Miami dropped a 101-97 decision in the Bulls that left the Heat six games shy of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game winning streak.
And now, here they go again.
“We’ve got to win four games and we’ve got to take it game by game,” Wade said. “Can’t worry about that. That was the regular season. That was fun. That’s over with. This is a different ball game.”