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Tuesday, January 31

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Bulls Wed May 08 2013

How The Bulls Can Steal Another From The Heat

Bulls_200.pngNate Robinson put the city of broad shoulders upon his own diminutive frame and marched into Miami to take down the gargantuan Heat. For an encore after what seemed like the Bulls' biggest playoff win in a decade on Saturday vs the Nets, the Bulls pulled off arguably the biggest playoff game upset in franchise history with the 93-86 shocker over the Heat. Hyperbole suits this underdog Bulls squad best.

As the minutes of the fourth quarter waned and the Bulls weren't being blown out, the vibe in my house with my buddies, as it was presumably all across Chicago's bars, was as if we were watching a pitcher who keeps getting deeper into a no-hitter. No one said anything to each other about the Bulls actually pulling the game out, and with each big basket, we all silently nodded and mutely noted the significance of the moment. That was until Robinson hit the floater past Ray Allen in isolation, putting the Bulls up four with 45 seconds left to play. The room exploded as if the no-hitter vying pitcher got the last batter to pop-up on the infield, and the game was all but secure.

Now it's time to move on to the all-important and scary Game 2 in Miami. It looks like the Bulls will be sans Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich once again. This meeting will be much different from the first. Expect LeBron James to take over from tip-off. He'll guard whoever is hot in the fourth quarter, and he'll look to get Jimmy Butler in foul trouble early by going to the rim often. He'll create more open threes for his teammates, which, if they knock down even just a few more than they did in Game 1 (7-for-24), will put the Bulls in a bind.

In Game 1, Butler (21 points) did everything Bulls fans wanted him to do on offense; pull the trigger on open jumpers, drive in the lane when the slightest opportunity presents itself, and get to the line. Butler did all this while playing 48 minutes where he guarded James the lion's share of the time. And when James was off the court, Butler got a breather by defending the playoffs' best remaining shooting guard, Dwayne Wade. When James appeared passive and pass-first, Butler held him to just two first-half points. Then James woke up and decided to play like the MVP he is, and scored 23 points while getting to the line an effortless nine times. Although it seems near impossible, on offense Butler may have to do more than his Game 1 performance since the Heat will be focused and out for blood.

Tom Thibodeau did a good job recognizing when Carlos Boozer was not going to find his shot, and sat him down. Boozer didn't play the fourth quarter after going 3-of-11 in the first three. For the Bulls to win a game where the Heat won't be "rusty" or taking the Bulls lightly, the team will need Boozer back to his Round 1 17 points and 10 rebounds averages. The Bulls got away with Boozer's absence in the first game, but won't win another without him contributing.

Joakim Noah had another brilliant game. He's clearly the Bulls' best and most consistent player. He's also significantly better than any Heat big, so it would be advantageous for the Bulls to get him more looks on offense this time around.

Play Rip Hamilton over Daequan Cook. This is obviously nitpicking but as Thibodeau asks of his team, win your individual match-ups and Cook can only beat himself. In Cook's minute and 33 seconds of action in, he recorded a foul and turned the ball over twice. It's odd to wish for the seldom used Hamilton to play more, but Marco Belinelli or even Butler (only when James is on the bench) could use a rest. Hamilton plays the Heat hard, and perhaps he is fired up from watching the playoffs from the front row.

Finally Robinson, and Belinelli to an extent, have to be the big shot saviors all game long. Miami's defense on the two looked rabid in the first three quarters, but they got open in the final period. Belinelli hit two clutch threes down the stretch, and Robinson went into hero ball mode. Constant ball movement, and extra passes can get these guards the shots they need to get going early.

The win in Game 1 afforded the Bulls the breathing room to lose Game 2. If they can make it out of this game without further injury, and head back to Chicago with possible reinforcements in waiting, they still have a shot at "stealing" Game 3 at home from the Heat. But it's hard to imagine these vicious Bulls looking past Game 2 or caring about said breathing room. They'll treat the second tilt as seriously as a Game 7. The Bulls may be the only team in the playoffs who can take the cliché of treating each game as a desperation must-win and turn it into a reality. There're at least four more games of ultra-competitive basketball for the Bulls to play. Odds makers and everyone else knows there's a good chance the outcomes of the next few games are the total opposite of what transpired Monday night, but the Bulls haven't relied on luck all year long, and they won't start now.

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