CHICAGO -- The only member of the Miami Heat who showed any anger or emotion exiting the court was a transformed man by the time I came across him in the locker room some 20 minutes later.
Down 2-0, Heat defiant
"I've been in the playoffs in this league a long time," Alonzo Mourning was saying, "and you know what, we've been here before. We've been here before."
Mourning actually chuckled in between repeating those last two sentences, a laugh one could only surmise was indicative of how all of the defending champs were feeling. Before, of course, was last June, and we all know what happened after the Miami Heat went down 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
"We've got to see what the scenario is now. You guys can write what you want to write, and that's fantastic. You've got to do what you've got to do, and that's appease the public. But the bottom line is we're the world champions, and the first team that wins four games moves on. And that has not happened," Mourning said before being asked if he felt a sense that his team was in trouble.
"Oh, no. No. I don't have that feeling at all. We're in trouble if we lose at home. If we lose at home, you come back and talk to me and I'll tell you: 'You know what? We're in trouble.' But until then, I like our chances," said Mourning, who was in a far worse place as he exited the court and screamed at a Miami cameraman to get that damn contraption out of his face.
A few minutes of reflection, and perhaps a few soothing words from the coach, put Mourning in his peaceful place. Pat Riley seemed to be there, too, as he sat at the interview podium afterward, a lifetime of postseason experience keeping his spirits a level or two above where you'd expect them to be at this point.
"Believe me, this game can change quick," Riley said. "When everything seems like it's the worst, it's really just the beginning."
As much as I admire their confidence, I worry about their bravado and whether it's giving the Heat a false sense of security. They have shown themselves to be fairly helpless to defend against the Bulls' crisp movement, their drive-and-kicks leading to an endless stream of midrange jumpers by Luol Deng that the old and slow Heat have been unable defend.
Deng went for 26 in Game 2 after putting up 33 three days earlier, and Ben Gordon came through with his second straight 27-point performance to go along with his five assists and seven rebounds.
Riley afterward was comparing Deng to Cedric Ceballos, such a tall, sharp midrange shooter that he's capable of going for 40 on any given night without having a single play called for him. Miami hasn't had any success defending him with Dwyane Wade or Eddie Jones. I'd be shocked if James Posey doesn't take over the starting assignment against him when this series resumes Friday night in Miami amid a sea of white clothing and white seat covers that'll provide a visual prompt to take everyone's minds back to this time a year ago.
The odd man out of the mix for Miami is almost certain to be Jones, whose cumulative totals of four points on 1-for7 shooting in two games should rekindle all the old talk about him being a player who disappears in the postseason. Wasn't that one of the main reasons why the Heat jettisoned him in the Antoine Walker trade two summers ago and why the Lakers dealt him away before that?
"We've been giving [Deng] airspace, and we need to make him put it on the floor," Riley said.
Riley also commented that he partly blames the New Jersey Nets for his team's predicament, saying the Bulls returned from their season-ending loss at the Meadowlands so irate at themselves that it has fueled the motivation they've been displaying in this series.
"It pissed them off, and usually borne out of that kind of adversity comes something else, and we saw that in the first two games," Riley said.
Unlike Riley and Mourning, one guy who did not crack a smile or emit a chuckle was Shaquille O'Neal, who pulled a fast one on the media horde waiting by his locker by plopping himself down on the other side of the room, forcing the pack to scramble for new positions.
"We really can't make any excuses tonight. They just outplayed us," O'Neal said before I asked him what the worst thing a team in an 0-2 deficit can do.
"Think negative," Shaq replied.
So although the Heat are not yet thinking negatively, there have to be some doubts creeping into their heads about whether they have the fortitude and the freshness to keep up with a team whose constant movement has done nothing but perplex them thus far.
But on this night, defiance was the mood du jour. That attitude served them well last June when they were in a similar predicament, but as Riley noted afterward, the comparison is not entirely valid because last year's Heat team had 19 playoff games under their belts by the time they summoned their finishing kick.
This time, they're barely out of the starting blocks and they're already running uphill.
They claim they're up to the task of rallying, and may even legitimately believe it in their heads, but the Bulls are a team that truly believes in themselves, too, and they've shown they're more than up for the task of outplaying the defending champs, even if they're not quite in position yet to finish them off. That could come by the end of the upcoming weekend, although Mourning would beg to differ.
"We've had two games, on the road, and we didn't play well in either one," Mourning said. "Statistically we were beat across the board in a lot of different categories, but what we do now is go home and take care of our business."
That last line was spoken like a veteran who knows that of which he is speaking, and he'd better. Because the Heat are getting burned thus far in this series, burned by an obviously better team.
Then again, that's what we all were saying back on June 12 a year ago when the Heat limped back to Miami trailing Dallas 2-0. The Heat were a defiant and confident bunch back then, and it served them well. Maybe that's why Riley was taking this one in stride, and why Mourning was striding away with a hint of a swagger after assuring everyone that the Heat have plenty left.
"Obviously we don't like it, but we're well aware that this is a seven-game series," Riley said, "and we hope it'll still be a long series, and just like last year we have to go home and win two. That's the way I look at it after all the playoff series I've been in. I'm not going to get all bent out of shape."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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Bulls forward Luol Deng celebrates in the fourth quarter of his team's 107-89 win over the Heat, taking a 2-0 lead in the series.
Jeff Weltman of Scouts Inc on a key to Warriors-Mavs Game 2:
Another front-burner issue is Baron Davis. When a team's best player is its point guard it presents a very difficult issue for a coach to defend. Not only does the 1 have the ball in his hands and thus always pose a threat to make everyone else better, but he is handling it in a place where it is impossible to double without stretching your defense. Davis makes it tougher by adding the physical dimensions that make him the team's only legit post-up threat.
What about Josh Howard on Davis? Howard is the best-suited Maverick to guard Davis and is supremely conditioned. He can defend the opposition's best player and still have enough left in the tank offensively.
It's amazing how 44:34 of Chris Bosh can turn around a game -- and even a playoff series.
Canada's next top model athlete -- who missed most of the first half in Toronto's Game 1 loss due to foul trouble -- was far and away the best player on the court during the Raptors' 89-83 victory over New Jersey in Game 2 Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.
Every time Toronto stumbled, Bosh grabbed the game by the ankles, held it upside down, and shook it relentlessly until all the goodies fell into his lap. The stats sheet will show he finished the night with 25 points and 13 rebounds, but his impact was much greater than mere numbers.
Simply, Bosh delivered the confidence and floor space his teammates needed to excel, and that gave the gathered crowd of 20,239 the joy they'd been waiting on for what felt like decades. He was a one-man Tony Robbins motivation clinic, and he silenced his cynics with the most powerful game of his burgeoning young career.
Bosh could be credited for the new and improved "VC sucks!" chants directed at Vince Carter, which seemed louder and lustier than they did in Game 1.
He was part of Anthony Parker 's much-improved stroke, which looked smoother than a Vegas con job.
Bulls take 2-0 lead on Heat
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Steve Nash, left, smiles as he chats with teammate Amare Stoudemire. They enjoyed Tuesday's proceedings, a blowout win in Game 2 over the Lakers, immensely.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
In a quiet moment after most of the press crowd dispersed, Kobe acknowledged that he's heard the rumblings out of Indianapolis about another, younger O'Neal possibly working his way to the Lakers.
The story, as covered in the season's final Weekend Dime , holds that Jermaine O'Neal -- according to at least one Pacers teammate we spoke with -- is hoping to end up in Hollywood alongside his longtime pal from the 1996 draft if his time in Indianapolis has indeed passed.
"There's not a lot I can say about it right now," Bryant said. "But if it gets to the point that Jermaine wants to be here instead of Indy, we'd love to have him. We'd be crazy not to."
It must be noted that there are still no firm indications that O'Neal is urging the Pacers to trade him or that the Pacers are prepared to consider it.
Mystery No. 2, of course, is whether the Lakers are willing to assemble a package that meets Indiana's demands.
L.A. can certainly supply a first-round pick in the June draft -- with Indy facing the real possibility of losing their lottery selection to Atlanta as part of the Al Harrington trade if it's not in the top 10 -- but the Pacers would undoubtedly want Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum as well.
While Kobe acknowledged Monday that he and Jermaine are "very close" to this day after coming into the league together, Odom goes back with Bryant as far as his favorite O'Neal does. Convincing the Lakers to surrender Bynum, furthermore, means convincing Jim Buss -- son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss and a driving force behind the drafting of Bynum with the 10th overall pick in 2005 -- to part with his pet.
Of course, if the Lakers are going to dramatically upgrade the roster in the offseason -- as they flirted with at the trading deadline by making a run at Jason Kidd -- they're going to have to part with Bynum at the very least.
One factor in L.A.'s favor: Unlike Minnesota with Kevin Garnett, which would probably have the Lakers at No. 29 on its list of prospective destinations for KG if it starts fielding tangible offers for him, Indiana would naturally prefer to send O'Neal to the West.
E-40: Tell me how Dallas can stop my Warriors without a legit low-post scoring threat to slow the pace of the game? By the way, GSW will not shoot that poorly in the next game.
Marc Stein: You're right, E. It's maybe the biggest issue on a growing list of Mavs problems. Dirk Nowitzki can't post lower because they'll just keep fronting him and they don't have another low-post scoring option. Jerry Stackhouse and Josh Howard are next in line, but neither one of them is going to punish the Warriors for playing so small. The Warriors come unstuck when someone punishes them down low.
Dan Patrick talked with Warriors coach Don Nelson about Game 2. Nellie had some fun with his team's underdog status. To wit:
How will the Mavs change their approach?
"We were just lucky that first game. They didn't shoot very well, and we didn't either actually. But for whatever reason, we played a little bit better than they did," he said. "I think they'll do just fine the second game. They'll be dominant as they should be and they'll mop us up.
"We have a better chance to get hit by lightning than to win tomorrow night."
But the Warriors have beaten the Mavs six straight.
"I'm just the luckiest guy in the world."