Will Heat keep shining in South Beach?
We're back where we started as the series shifts south.
In control of the boards and the series after one game, the Bulls are back to the drawing board after a sluggish finish to Game 2 ... while the Heat bounced back from a Game 1 flameout and head home looking like the red-hot two-headed machine that walked off AmericanAirlines Arena in triumph last week.
So, where to now?
We pass the rock to our five-man squad to find out how the rest of the Eastern Conference finals will play out:
1. LeBron broke open Game 2 with nine points in the final 4:28. He was ...
A. Just being LeBron
B. Earning new stripes
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: A. Just being LeBron. James can take over games whenever he wants because he's that good. This performance was just another example of that. When he is on, there isn't a guy in the world who can stop him.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: A. Just being LeBron. There's absolutely nothing new about LeBron pulling up for jumpers when the defender gives him space. The only difference is the outcome of a 30 percent shot. Most of the time he doesn't make that shot. But doesn't he look unstoppable when he does?
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: A. Just being LeBron. If you look at 82Games.com's "clutch" statistics for the three seasons before 2010-11, LeBron has been one of, if not the, best player in the league in the last five minutes of close games. Three more wins against the Bulls would only equal his best clutch accomplishment to date, taking over three straight games in the conference finals against the Pistons in 2007.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: A. Just being LeBron. This was the LeBron James whom people have been waiting for, a LeBron James with a killer instinct. He took over against the Celtics in Game 5 to close out the series and did the same at the end of Game 2 against Chicago. LeBron is making his case to be the closer in Miami.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: A. Just being LeBron. LeBron is probably the best player in the world. Eventually, he was going to go on an influential scoring run, and it just so happened to come in the last 4:28 of Game 2. But four-and-a-half minutes aren't enough to redefine a player (good or bad).
2. Derrick Rose was not up to his usual standard in Game 2. That was ...
A. The Heat's defense at work
B. Merely a blip for the MVP
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: A little of both. Rose has struggled to score efficiently throughout the playoffs, and Miami is the best defensive team he's faced by a wide margin. Still, Rose is too good around the rim to go 2-for-12 from the paint on any kind of a regular basis.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: A. The Heat's defense at work. Here's the thing: The guy guarding Rose isn't really the guy guarding Rose. It's the help defenders who have to stop him when he inevitably blows by the first defender. At 2 through 5, the Heat have defenders as disciplined and athletic as you'll find in the NBA. A rare combination that could prove to be Rose's kryptonite.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: A. The Heat's defense at work. Rose has had to fight all postseason. Teams are making more and more adjustments to slow him down, and the Heat just seem to have the best personnel for those adjustments. With that said, it also will be just a blip if Rose, as he has done all season, comes back from his poor showing with a great game.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: B. Merely a blip for the MVP. Rose struggled, but he didn't get the same support he got in Game 1. I expect the Bulls to regain some continuity and spread the floor on offense to alleviate the burden on Rose. If that happens, the MVP will play at a high level again. Paging Kyle Korver!
3. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau should be more worried about ...
A. Stopping LeBron and D-Wade
B. Scoring on Miami's defense
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: A. Stopping LeBron and D-Wade. If the Bulls can't stop LeBron and D-Wade, it won't matter how many points the Bulls score.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: B. Scoring on Miami's defense. LeBron and Wade are both so good that they're capable of going off regardless of the defense. All Thibodeau can do is put bodies on them and hope for the best. Scoring on Miami isn't easy, but it's something Thibodeau has much more control over.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: B. Scoring on Miami's defense. The Bulls' offensive rebounding in Game 1 obscured the paucity of their offense. The warning signs were there: If the Heat can bottle up Rose, where's the offense coming from? Carlos Boozer is shooting at less than 44 percent in the playoffs, and Luol Deng is not qualified to be a legit second option.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: A. Stopping LeBron and D-Wade. The only way the Bulls will advance is with their No. 1-ranked defense. Scoring is necessary, but if you can stop the best two players on the other team, you don't need to score nearly as much. Chicago also needs to win the rebounding battle, as it did in Game 1.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: A. Stopping LeBron and D-Wade. The Bulls have some favorable mismatches against Miami's defense and will make their shots. However, LeBron and D-Wade can take over a game like no other duo in history. I wouldn't blame Thibodeau for sleeping with his night light on for the rest of the series.
4. Udonis Haslem is ...
A. A nice comeback story
B. A real difference-maker
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: B. A real difference-maker. Haslem plays the type of basketball that the Bulls live by. He's a tough, hard-nosed player who defends. I'm not sure why Erik Spoelstra didn't use him sooner, but I'm sure he'll get a lot more playing time the rest of the series.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: I honestly have no idea. The crowd in Miami could help Haslem sustain the adrenaline burst that fueled his breakout performance in Game 2, but this is still a player who missed the majority of the season. It's hard to pencil him in as an impact player based on one game, although he's been doing what he did in Game 2 for most of his career when healthy.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: B. A real difference-maker. On a normal roster, he's just a nice comeback story. But there's such an enormous gap between the Big Three and the "little 12" that Haslem could be the Heat's fourth-best player even if he's just 80 percent healthy. For a squad desperate for rebounding and floor-spacing, he's a difference-maker.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: B. A real difference-maker. When Haslem was on the court, you noticed him. His 13 points on 50 percent shooting in Game 2 only tells part of the story. He had two dunks that seemed to suck the energy out of the United Center at the worst possible time for the Bulls. Having Haslem back on the floor is a morale boost for Miami.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: A. A nice comeback story. He was a real difference-maker on Wednesday, but I don't envision a repeat performance any time soon. The Bulls will be prepared for him, but Haslem's body might not be prepared for another major chunk of playing time. Remember, he was on the floor for only seven minutes between Nov. 21 and Game 2.
5. Game 3 will be ...
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: B. Miami's. The Bulls have bounced back all season after tough defeats, but I think LeBron and Wade have a large dose of renewed confidence after slowing down Rose and earning a hard-fought win in Game 2.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: B. Miami's. The Heat have some momentum, and the lack of a home-crowd advantage will keep the Bulls from playing at the insane energy level they brought to Games 1 and 2. I think there will be a split in Miami; Chicago is too good to lose three games in a row.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: B. Miami's. The Heat haven't lost at home in the playoffs and Haslem's arrival smooths out their top-heavy roster. Forget the "Fan Up" campaign; ask Boston or Philly how hard it is to beat the Heat on their home floor.
Braedan Ritter, Bulls By The Horns: B. Miami's. This game will be a battle of coaches. Thibodeau needs to free up Rose and stop Wade and LeBron. The Heat need to keep their intensity on the glass, and Spoelstra must change his game plan (so Thibodeau can't plan for it) while not changing it so much that it stops working. If forced to choose, I would take Miami at home.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: B. Miami's. The Heat will continue their dominant play at home and win on Sunday. Three days off between games should allow the Big Three to fully recover and once again do nearly all of the damage for their team.
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