MIAMI – As usual, the Chicago Bulls are undermanned, so they should have the Miami Heat precisely where they want them.
Only the Heat are wise to that game. As far as the defending champions are concerned, the Bulls not only have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich available for Game 1 and each subsequent contest in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, they might as well have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier.
“We don’t play the personnel, we play the jerseys. We play the team,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, avoiding any discussion of specific absent Bulls players. “This team proved that no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to do the little things that’s going to give them the opportunity to win games.”
With Rose (knee surgery) a constant all seasons and Hinrich (bruised calf) a game-time decision, Deng is the most pressing and serious. The illness that led to his precautionary spinal tap led to a complication that sent him back to the hospital over the weekend. Deng’s plan, after the Bulls’ Game 7 first-round victory at Brooklyn Saturday, was to meet the Bulls in south Florida for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But he was not in Miami Monday for shootaround sessions and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t know if Deng would travel in time for Game 2 or await the series’ shift to Chicago.
That wasn’t anything that the Heat players were willing to engage.
“No change,” forward Chris Bosh said when asked about Deng. “It’s all the same. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s how you get beat. You think that just because Deng’s not playing, you look at the other guy and change your mindset. That’s when things start to go wrong. So we can all learn from Brooklyn’s mistake.”
With Deng, with Rose, with Hinrich, with whomever, Bosh said, Miami is approaching the series as if all Bulls are ready to hit the streets of Pamplona.
The All-Star power forward did watch Game 7 of Nets-Bulls, however, in which Chicago produced one of the great upsets in recent NBA playoff history. Star-laden teams never get the chance to know the exhilaration of giant-killing quite like that.
“Yeah. I mean, my days in Toronto I know what the underdog feels like but we never had a chance to win a playoff series or anything like that,” Bosh said. “Honestly, I don’t want to be in that position.
“It really just comes down to playing the game. You can’t really worry about who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite. If you sleep on those guys, if you think you just have to show up to win the game, you’re wrong. Chicago has a work ethic. They’re going to play together, they’re going to make it tough. And if you underestimate them, you will get beat.”
The Heat and the Bulls split their four meetings this season. Miami last played on April 28, and it’s eight-day layoff is the longest between series of its three-season run since Wade, Bosh and LeBron James joined forces in 2010.