Aggressive efforts expected of James, Wade in Game 2


May 18

Though it was tied at halftime of Game 1, the Chicago Bulls dominated the Miami Heat in the second half and secured a 21-point victory.

Seventy-two hours after that contest in which Chicago owned the boards for a fourth straight meeting, LeBron James revealed he’s been battling a cold at the Heat’s Wednesday morning shootaround. Yet, Miami insists it’s in the perfect position to take control of the best-of-seven series.

“It’s all how you look at it,” explained Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “We’ve had plenty of time to think about it. After three days, we see it as a great opportunity.”

With two full off days in between games, Miami has had ample time to recover from the rout and make the necessary changes.

And while at first LeBron James said he believed there was no advantage to the time off—“because you’re so ready to get back and redeem yourself”—he changed his mind after further consideration.

“You get an opportunity to rest your body,” said James of the break, who also revealed he has suffered from a head cold since arriving in Chicago over the weekend. “Any rest you get during the playoffs helps. It also gives you an opportunity to go over adjustments. So there are benefits about it.”

James said he’ll take a more aggressive approach in Game 2, which will likely mean an increase in his number of shots—he only attempted 15 in Game 1, most of them jump shots—and drives to the basket.

Chicago’s Luol Deng, who recorded 21 points and seven rebounds, will again draw the primary assignment of slowing James, a two-time NBA MVP.

“He’s a very good player,” said James of Deng. “He played with a lot of injuries the last few years and it slowed him down, but this year he’s been injury free. He’s played all year and probably been one of the most consistent [players] besides Derrick Rose on their team. When he plays well, they play well.”

James also credited Deng for his defense, but stopped short of acknowledging he was one of the more underrated defenders in the NBA.

“He’s solid, he’s really solid,” James said of Deng. “I don’t really get into the All-Defensive teams and things like that, but he’s a really good defender.”

As for Dwyane Wade, who also is also expected to come out more aggressively on the offensive end in Game 2 after being held to 18 points and a scoreless fourth quarter in the series opener, he’s not surprised about the Bulls’ effort in Game 1.

Not after Miami was swept by Chicago in the regular season, the only team in the league besides Dallas to do that.

“This Bulls team is consistent,” said Wade. “We had a lot of close games with them and they found ways to win those games whether it was at our place or here. They are the quietest 62-win team when it comes to their dominance and what they did this year, probably in the history of the league.”

Wade invited James and several other teammates over to his home for dinner and to watch Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Perhaps the topic of slowing down the Bulls in the third quarter came up in between courses.

Just as consistently as Chicago’s rebounding advantage, the Bulls have had their way against the Heat in four third periods this season, outscoring them 25-17 on Jan. 15, 27-14 on Feb. 24 , 23-16 on March 6, and 24-15 in Game 1 Sunday.

“They have dominated third quarters and that’s something we have to address,” Wade said. “Against this team, you can’t do that.”

Miami has had ample time and opportunity to correct some of their Game 1 shortcomings—the rebounding disparity, the third quarter struggles, and lack of offensive firepower from its stars, James and Wade. Now, it’s a matter of execution.

Game 1 would become a distant memory for both teams if the Heat is able to capture a victory Wednesday at the United Center.

“It changes the series obviously,” Wade said of winning Game 2. “It puts us in the position of having home court advantage. Any time you win in the playoffs, you get swagger. Down 3-0 and get a win, you get a little extra swagger and say, ‘OK, we can get the next one.’ It would be a big win. We responded pretty good this year and I look forward to seeing how [the Bulls] respond.”

National Anthem at the United Center one of a kind

As if the capacity crowd on hand at the United Center for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals needed any help in fulfilling its sixth man role, tenor Jim Cornelison certainly provided a boost with his rendition of the National Anthem.

On Tuesday, the Bulls announced that Cornelison, the Chicago Blackhawks’ full-time National Anthem singer, is on board to sing at all Bulls home games for the remainder of their playoff run.

“Obviously, this is a great home crowd,” said Miami’s Dwyane Wade. “I’ve never heard it as loud as when [Cornelison] was singing. That was as loudest I’ve heard anything. It was amazing. The only way you can hush a road crowd is putting the ball in the basket and getting stops on the defensive end. Then, they don’t have much to cheer about.”

Winds of change for Miami?

Given Miami’s repeated struggles when it comes to the battle of the boards, there has been some speculation that the Heat will move to a bigger lineup, which may feature Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Udonis Haslem in more prominent roles.

“The thing I’m exploring the most is getting back to our game,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about a change following the team’s shootaround on Wednesday. “It’s not about who, it’s about what, what we’re capable of. We’re an aggressive, hard hitting, physical defensive team. We did not show that, obviously, in Game 1, particularly on the boards. But that is not our nature.”

Ilgauskas was inactive in Game 1 and averaged only nine minutes per game in four games against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

While Spoelstra opted not to show his hand as of Wednesday morning on whether or not Ilgauskas would be activated, he did allude to the possibility of a different lineup.

“We do have guys that may play tonight that didn’t play in Game 1, but that’s not the issue,” he said. “It’s about us and our mentality, the physicality we bring to the game regardless of who’s coming in.”

Spoelstra also insisted that a better rebounding effort may not necessarily mean a change in personnel.

“It’s about what we’re capable of,” said Spoelstra. “We’ve proven to be a great rebounding team all season. We did not finish defensive possessions off in Game 1 and that’s got to change tonight.”

Audio—Miami’s LeBron James following Game 2 shootaround (05.18.2011):

Audio—Miami’s Dwyane Wade following Game 2 shootaround (05.18.2011):

Audio—Heat coach Erik Spoelstra following Game 2 shootaround (05.18.2011):

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