Physical? It’s Mental, Too, As Heat Know What Bulls, Others Still Learning


VIDEO: Balanced offensive attack carries Heat over Bulls on opening nightx

MIAMI – The Miami Heat practiced with blocking pads, or at least ran a few drills with them, Monday in the small window when reporters and TV cameras are allowed to watch. Players and coaches on both sides talked about how rugged games always get between the Heat and the Chicago Bulls, the Eastern Conference rivals who seem to most resent the two-time defending champs’ creation.

And yes, there was much contact and banging Tuesday night in the two teams’ season openers. The Bulls’ Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler wound up on the bench in early foul trouble and coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to allude to the rugged play when talking about Derrick Rose‘s forgettable play and the meager four free throws he shot.

Forget physical, though, as the pivot point of Miami’s 107-95 victory,  and whatever series of games plays out vs. Chicago over the next seven months.

This was and is going to be mental.

Starting Tuesday and continuing until one of them is eliminated next spring, the battles that will define this basketball war will pit all that Miami knows it has done and can do, against what Chicago thinks maybe and kinda hopes it can.

That is the gap between these teams, beyond the jaw-dropping talent of LeBron James, the twilight swagger of Dwyane Wade or the edges Miami’s other players enjoy in their matchups thanks to that uber-mismatch up top. It’s an experience and confidence gap that the Heat, after three straight runs to The Finals and back-to-back championships, enjoy over just about every opponent.

Only, relative to the Bulls, it’s a little more so.

Think about where the Heat are at this point in their championship run. Not “not five, not six,” to dust off some old snark, but two tucked away after the hard knocks administered by Dallas in The Finals in 2011.

James has figured it out. He’s at the peak of his skills and know-how. Wade sees something to stick around for and replenish. Everyone else on the roster is bolder and brasher as well.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra seems to be saying and doing all the right things, running a graduate school in winning while most of  his counterparts are stuck coaching up the freshmen.


VIDEO: LeBron James on Miami’s season-opener

Even some of the oldest mental gymnastics in the manual — the that-was-last-year-we-haven’t-done-a-thing-this-year pitch — sounds fresh coming from Spoelstra. He has earned this status, too, after a year … OK, two years … hmm, maybe three in which his professional chops constantly were in question.

Let’s just say that, if Spoelstra were in charge of a healthcare Web site, it would have been ready for its rollout. The way Miami was Tuesday.

“What we talked about [at the start of camp] was starting the 28-day process of our burial of last year,” Spoelstra said earlier Tuesday. “The championship, as gratifying as it was, this [ring and banner ceremony] will be the culmination of it, where we put the last shovel of dirt on it, where we have to move on. This new challenge, it will be different. Last year was totally different from the year before, and you have to be able to embrace that. The competition is better, it’s different. Our team is different. Guys, where they are at stages of their career, is different.

“And our guys enjoy the difference of this new challenge.”

Miami’s players enjoy more than that; they enjoy a sizeable advantage in knowing how they have done what they’ve done. Not so much the Xs and Os of particular games they have taken but the resourcefulness in small moments, and spotting warning signs and early fraying, and all the other tricks and lessons that came hard against Dallas, so fast against Oklahoma City and against long odds in tight spaces against San Antonio.

“Where it helps us is when it hits,” Spoelstra said, pounding a fist into a palm, “and you start to struggle, we’ve been through it. We’ve been through it with all the noise and storylines and adversity. That we’ve been able to persevere and focus on what matters. That is sometimes tough if you haven’t experienced it as a group.”

That is what Chicago is facing, meeting challenges, making memories and filing them away. Rose’s return is a work in progress, evidenced by his 4-for-15 shooting Tuesday and five turnovers. The Bulls’ starting lineup — Rose, Deng, Butler, Carlos Boozer and out-of-sync-and-condition Joakim Noah — never had played together (owing mostly to Rose’s absence and Butler’s late blooming last season). The unfamiliarity showed at both ends. When Deng and Butler sat down, it got worse.

Meanwhile, James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and even Ray Allen and Shane Battier look sometimes like they never have played with anyone else.

“That’s a tough team,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We would like to think we have that chance to knock ‘em off, but it’s a long season. It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of preparation to get to that point because they’re the two-time defending champs.

“We just want to do our jobs and build on the right things. That’s what we’ve done the last couple years, is building and building and building. Hopefully this year will be the year that it all pays off.”

Hope isn’t a plan, though. The Bulls find themselves squeezed between building and planning to remodel. A big summer looms for Chicago — from Deng’s free agency and Boozer’s possible amnesty to the comings-or-not-comings of Euro prospect Nikola Mirotic and, always, injury concerns with Rose, Noah and anyone who slogs through Thibodeau’s workloads.

The Bulls could use another big and another scorer, even as they try to gain the wisdom and solve the puzzle that took Miami repeated tries.

“You never really know until you know,” Bosh said. “That’s the main thing. You’re going to be tested. You have to overcome those tests and it’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.”

OK, we can hear Chicagoland — and Pacers-land, Thunder-land and Nets-land, too — thinking in unison, “Shaddup, Chris.” But proving him wrong is only one of the things still on those teams’ to-do list.

“Whether you’re going for six championships or whatever,” Bosh said, “you’re always going to face a moment where you have to completely trust the system, trust your teammates and trust yourself. You have to stay together. The first team to fall apart or split apart and not pay attention to those moments, those are usually the teams that come up short. And we’ve been on the side of both fences, so we understand.”

The Heat demonstrated that with their performance on ring night, while tossing one of those little tests the Bulls’ way on opening night. It’s a long season for the contenders and the pretenders, with time enough to learn but no guarantee that they will.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose on his season debut, Chicago’s loss

28 Comments

  1. cristian says:

    Bulls need to build their chemistry back up. They’re still great. Just need a few games to pull their stuff together.

  2. lol says:

    “MVP” D-rose is a BUST.. he was trying too hard last night and still had an awfull game, he lost lots of his quickness and agility cause of the injury and his hooting didnt improve so…gg D.rose….at least Boozer was scoring, as for the others…we know the bulls got no offence, they are in such a big hole, without scorers they aint going nowhere.

  3. pacquiaoverated says:

    Cole destroyed drose with that sick crossover lol

  4. LearnTheGame says:

    That’s why you need a bench clown. Fouls are a part of the game. You get 6 use them wisely. They just don’t have the depth to beat MIA. If MIA don’t eclipse that 72-10 record and win a championship I would say they underachieved. They go 15 deep if they wanted to and have very little drop off in talent.

  5. Game Time says:

    Now the Bulls are complaining about not getting enough free throws lmao. They can’t hack and push their way to a win and it becomes unfair. Crying your way to the top won’t work Tom.

  6. jditty22 says:

    Cole dominated the Bulls guards last night. Did you notice when Cole sat down Heat was up 20? He crossed D. Rose up several times, set team mates up for easy buckets and was always 2 steps in front of the Bulls defense. There was no answer for him. Nate Robinson was a better challege for the Heat in regular season and the playoffs. (Heat beat D. Rose 4-1, it was more difficult with Nate)

  7. Karlo Garcia says:

    Only just 1 game for Miami & Chicago………

  8. Gillsy says:

    The only things that this game shows is that the Bulls need to adjust to Rose’s return. While the Heat still have the deepest bench where their starters can not play their best and they still win easily. But we all knew that.

  9. Miami Heat Fan says:

    I didn’t “see-red” last night….and even here…lol GO HEAT for 3PEAT!

  10. Filipino Idiot says:

    The only team that has a chance to beat Miami this year is Houston Rockets, only the great Center Dwight Howard can do that

  11. Bob says:

    It’s only the first game, so it’s only the first step in a long journey. But, tonight’s game was a clinic on how to play basketball. The Heat had a game plan, trusted each other, and executed like they played ball inside each others head. That game was a clinic
    It showed that a team doesn’t have to have 27.3 ppg scorer to win; you have to have players that understand what has to be done and have practiced how to get it done. They did the little things and 3rd option guys made big plays at big times.
    Coach Spo has this team in the right mindset. They executed so well that it took the heart from the Bulls. They had an answer for every Bull play, and the Bulls couldn’t make things happen on the fly.
    The Heat played a great game. I can’t wait for the Pacers and Nets come to town. It was a great start to the season. I hope Miami continues to play like this every night.

  12. cyrlson says:

    Indiana wont challenge the heat anymore since Hibbert just got injured lol

  13. cyrlson says:

    Indiana is not a challenge anymore, hibbert just got injured lol

  14. cry says:

    good start,hope it ends good too…go heat…the real challenger is indiana..

  15. thats why chris boss yuo are right only one team who can challenge miami in finals lets go miami heat go for the 3peat

  16. lebron still and proven he is the best player in nba

  17. good job miami heat to all guys out there respect miami

  18. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    Where did all the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose fans go?

    #3PEAT!

    • Cordell Daniels says:

      I’m right here the heat not 3 peating. Just foul trouble mess us up that’s it.

      • Bball fan says:

        Ya, the fact that your “mvp” shot 4 of 15, as a team they had 19 turnovers, and each of Miami’s players had double digit points except birdman and Haslem didn’t help either

        #Sillybullsfans

      • Game Time says:

        Excuse…

  19. jake s. says:

    The Heat are the best team in the league by at least a league. Out of 7 games the only teams that can get lucky are Bulls and Thunder. Thunder have been demoted recently because of Westbrooks absence, Bulls have been promoted due to Roses’ return. The fact if the matter is that no team matches the play making, physical toughness, and mental toughness that the Heat currently possess. Three-peat is inevitable and that is coming from a die hard Oklahoma fan.