The Eastern Conference semifinals have been far from perfect for the Miami Heat.
And the reigning NBA champions are now in absolute control of this series nonetheless.
Barely a week ago, there was so much talk about how the Chicago Bulls had Miami’s number like no other team. That seems long forgotten now, after three straight wins _ by an average of 23.3 points _ have the Heat one win away from returning to the East finals. Up 3-1 in the series, the Heat will try to close out the Bulls in Game 5 at Miami on Wednesday night.
“You have to have a high-character team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday, a few hours after his team returned from Chicago after an 88-65 rout in Game 4 of the suddenly one-sided series. “You have to have a team that’s built strong habits … not to take games for granted. Our guys have built up habits. They also have built up perspective that boy, these close-out games have been the toughest ones.”
When Miami gets a chance to finish off an opponent, it typically doesn’t waste any time. Since James, Wade and Chris Bosh joined up, the Heat are 8-2 in games where they can clinch a series, winning each of their last five by double figures.
Given the way this series is going, it’s not hard to envision Wednesday ending the same way.
“Got to take care of business,” Bosh said.
The Bulls outscored the Heat in Game 1, tried to outmuscle them in Games 2 and 3, and then simply looked outmanned in Game 4. Derrick Rose has been gone all season, Kirk Hinrich hasn’t played since logging 60 minutes in Chicago’s triple-overtime Game 4 against Brooklyn in the opening round and Luol Deng is still dealing with the effects of a nasty bout of illness.
On Wednesday, the Bulls shot just under 26 percent, scored nine points in the third quarter and saw Nate Robinson _ Chicago’s best offensive weapon in these playoffs _ take 12 shots and miss them all.
“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Robinson said. “We’re professionals for a reason. We’ll go back to the drawing board and figure it out.”
They better figure it out in a hurry.
In a series where Wade _ averaging just 11.3 points in the four games _ has been limited by continued issues with the bone bruises in his right knee, where James‘ shooting is down more than 10 percent from his regular-season pace and Battier and Allen have combined to go 9 for 34 from beyond the 3-point arc,
Miami has been rolling along anyway.
“You analyze what happened in the game, make your corrections, get ready for the next one. We’ll just keep our focus right there,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t what them looking backwards. I don’t want them looking ahead. Just lock into the game that’s in front of us and concentrate on winning that game. We know we’re capable.”