Game 2 preview: Did Miami peak too soon?

Game 2 preview: Did Miami peak too soon?

Posted by mikemcgraw on Wed, 05/08/2013 - 10:53

MIAMI – Nothing new at Bulls shootaround today. According to coach Tom Thibodeau, Luol Deng is feeling better, but is still back in Chicago, so he won’t play tonight.

Kirk Hinrich is officially a game-time decision, but he sounded pessimistic yesterday, so doubtful would be a good description of his status.

Asked about an Internet report Derrick Rose might start suiting up for games in case of emergency, Thibodeau smirked and said, “Nothing’s changed.”

In the meantime, here’s an optimistic thought for Bulls fans: Is it possible Miami lost its edge by coasting through the second half of the season?

During the 27-game winning streak, there were some impressive victories, such as at Oklahoma City on Feb. 14. But a large part of it came against the Eastern Conference’s weakest teams in a weak year for the East. Charlotte, Orlando, Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, Detroit represented 17 wins during Miami’s 37-2 finish.

Then came an easy first-round sweep of Milwaukee, followed by a week with no games. It was obvious the Heat lost its edge in the Game 1 loss to the Bulls. The question is, how quickly can it be regained?

Obviously, the Bulls will set out to bring another strong effort in Game 2, but it seems the longer they can keep Miami moving slowly, playing in the halfcourt and challenging everything the Heat does, that lull could linger.

Peaking too early has happened to many teams in many sports. Don’t forget, just one No. 1 seed in the East has gone on to play in the Finals over the past 10 years (Boston in 2008).

The other side of this theory is Miami took Game 1 as a slap to the face and will kick it into high gear immediately. No one seems too worried about the 0-1 deficit in South Florida.

“You can tell, our guys are enthusiastic to get out there in front of our fans again,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday morning.

But this is also an instance when home-court can be a disadvantage. In 2011, the Bulls lost Game 2 to Miami, then had to play the next two on the road. This time, the Bulls will head home with no worse than a split and will have a chance to carry momentum in front of the home fans.

A new audience continues to be marveled by the Bulls’ shorthanded magic act – and it is impressive – but fans who watched the team all year know the performances of Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli are nothing new. One challenge will be trying to carry the momentum they’ve built when Deng and Hinrich come back. Changing chemistry when guys return from injuries has been an issue at times for the Bulls.

The stat of the night after Game 1 – since Feb. 3, Miami is 39-1 against the rest of the league, 2-2 against the Bulls – suggests the Heat is one of the greatest teams in NBA history. But the eye test tells you this Miami squad is not in that category and has been coasting against plenty of bad and injury-depleted opponents.

Valid or not, the Bulls seem anxious to put that theory to the test.

Coach of the year was announced Wednesday morning and Denver’s George Karl was an easy winner, followed by Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, New York’s Mike Woodson, San Antonio’s Greg Popovich, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins and Golden State’s Mark Jackson.

Tom Thibodeau finished eighth and laughed off the news at shootaround. Karl had never won the award so no doubt many voters thought of this as sort of a lifetime achievement award and deservedly so.

Spoelstra expressed relief that he didn’t win.

“It’s not quite as definitive as the (Sports Illustrated) jinx, but it’s close,” he said.

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