Bulls prepare for potential elimination game in Miami


May 14

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Don’t believe me. NBA history says this Bulls season is about to end. Eight times in NBA history a team trailing 3-1 in the playoffs, as the Bulls are to the Miami Heat with Game 5 in Miami Wednesday, has come back to win a seven game series.

That’s in the 194 times teams have trailed 3-1, making it a four percent chance.

No, it gets worse.

Only twice among the eight times has the team that came back done so on the road, which the Bulls would have to do in winning two of the next three. So that would make it about a one percent chance. I know. As long as there’s a breath.

Those two teams that came back to win without home court advantage, by the way, went on to win the NBA title, the 1968 Boston Celtics an the 1995 Houston Rockets.

Taj Gibson

Which means no team in NBA history has ever come back on the road from trailing 3-1 and then failed to win the NBA title.

So it’s not great odds facing a fractured Bulls team coming into Miami after three consecutive losses in which they’ve been outscored by an average of more than 20 per game.

“We’ve got to play with that dog mentality now,” said Taj Gibson after the Game 4 loss. “I look forward to playing on the road. It’s us against the world. That’s the way you have to feel, us against the whole state of Florida. We’ve got to go in there and get a win. We’ve done it. Teams have done it in history (coming back from 3-1).”

It would hardly be befitting this particular Bulls team or consistent with the way they have conducted themselves all season to head into this game with any sort of attitude of surrender. The Heat will get a complete effort.

The way these things generally go, though, is the underdog team comes out with some desperation and pushes that as long as they can. If they cannot get far ahead, the home team generally takes control. Though Miami has its own issues now. There’s talk the Heat will sit the ailing Dwyane Wade as they did late in the sweep over the Bucks with Wade’s knee an obvious problem. Of course, as Wade hardly contributed anything the first four games, it’s not like they would be losing much.

It’s not a good sign for Miami moving forward as they sat Wade to get that week’s rest before the second round and it seemed not to do much good. Mike Miller started for Wade then, but he has played little against the Bulls. Miami could go with Ray Allen or even a small backcourt with Norris Cole given Nate Robinson starts for the Bulls.

Neither Kirk Hinrich nor Luol Deng is expected to play and Deng wasn’t even certain about traveling given the severity of his infection and subsequent procedure. Derrick Rose also remains out for the Bulls in what could be their final game of the 2012-13 season.

“We’re still alive; we’re still fighting,” said Joakim Noah.

Which has gotten the Bulls this far.

But this also is against the team most expect to repeat as NBA champions and is playing well, virtually even in rebounding in this series with the Bulls, shooting substantially better, sharing the ball more frequently and protecting the rim more effectively with almost three times as many blocked shots.

“Hey, they’re the defending champs,” noticed Richard Hamilton, who came into the series in Game 4 and gave the Bulls a boost with his passing and shooting. “They’re on a roll. They play well together; they have a good system. You just can’t play hard. Playing hard is good, but you’ve got to execute and make shots, play defense, get loose balls. Playing hard you can stay in games, but you don’t always win games. We’ve got to figure out how to execute on offense and score.”

One method the Bulls may pursue would be getting away from the pick and rolls some with Nate Robinson and going with more direct postups or play through someone like Joakim Noah, as they’ve done from time to time in the series, to avoid Miami’s traps and pressure on the pick and roll. Though Miami’s defense is no aberration and has had plenty to do with the Bulls’ offensive inefficiencies.

Because the Bulls likely have never done it worse than in this series. Their 65 points and 25.7 percent shooting Monday were franchise lows and turned an inspiring and entertaining team into a boring, unwatchable event, at least for one day.

Jimmy Butler leads the team in scoring at 14.8 against the Heat. The Bulls are shooting 37.6 percent in the series, believed to be the poorest shooting series in team history. Only Malcolm Thomas is shooting better than 45 percent, and he only played at the end of Monday’s blowout loss. At least there got to be a Malcolm Thomas mention before the end of the season.

But until it’s over it’s not over, unless it is over, or when it’s over they’ll let us know, or something like that.

Actually, the Bulls have a guy who knows something about all this since Hamilton played for one of the eight teams that came back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.

That was the 2003 Pistons, who fell behind Orlando 3-1 as Tracy McGrady made his famous proclamation he guessed he finally was in the second round. Ooops. Hamilton averaged 22.7 points and shot 52 percent over the next three games as the Pistons won all three and went to the conference finals.

“The playoffs are rough,” said Hamilton. “When you’ve got to battle the same team over and over in a seven games series and defend and play both ends it’s tough, hard work. It’s not like the regular season games. You get fatigued; you get tired fast. Plays you did early in the series are not there for you anymore.

“You’ve got to take it one quarter at a time,” said Hamilton about approaching a 1-3 deficit. “You can’t try to hit a home run. You can’t go in and say we’ve got to win three games. You’ve got to say you’ll take the first quarter and the next and then you’ll be all right. You talk three games and you put too much pressure on yourself.”

So win a quarter and win a quarter. Maybe Wade doesn’t play, and Chris Bosh isn’t making all those long jump shots. Sure, James is terrific and everything pretty much runs through him. But Miami’s third leading scorer is Norris Cole. Shane Battier? Chris Anderson? Udonis Haslem. This isn’t the ’86 Celtics.

In the Finals in 1993 and 1998, the odds seemed impossible for the team trailing 3-1. They were on the road to play the team with the league’s best player and who also was the defending champions. The Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz both won those seemingly impossible road games against the champion Bulls. At least you know with this current Bulls team you are going to get a full effort. And once you do, who knows what can happen a quarter at a time.

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